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While you were distracted from driving

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
Service member, if it's your first time around base and you did not consider a drive down our most dangerous road, you need to really see what the locals here like to call "... I'll-kill-ya-highway."

I think it may have passed you, without notice.

Consider this a lesson, not a scolding. First, put down that smart phone, and pull over if you're still driving - please.

It's actually called Alcoa Highway, but you probably have a similar road where you're from, with heavy volume, and where drivers do dumb stuff or drive dangerously fast, making it a challenge and hazard to navigate under the best conditions.

You should know that no amount of training, technology, reflexes or plain luck eliminates the dangerous choice of distracted driving in our nation's Wild-West-style traffic; and when you pull out from the duty day, you are still in the service. 

Service member, you should also know it's prohibited to use a cell phone, except for hands-free, when driving on base.  Texting and driving is illegal. You cannot use your cell phone in any way if you're driving a government vehicle, no matter where you are. State laws vary too, so officials recommend that you learn the law of the land.

"These laws and policies are in place because a significant number of people have lost their lives or have been seriously injured due to distracted driving," said Air Force Col. Jessica Meyeraan, the base's I.G. Brown Training and Education Center commander. 

"Distracted driving is dangerous driving," said the commander.

According to the National Safety Council, driving takes a lot of thought, so anything else while steering around town may cause a crash. You just can't break or see the traffic that quick.

All of that alarming traffic is just outside many bases' front gates - at our gate, you take a right and follow Airbase Road. It's pleasant enough, past some shady woods, until you reach I'll-kill-ya-highway's rumble, with honks and merge-blocks and its collision threats.

From there, either you merge south, or you take your chances with a left turn, across a four-lane gauntlet of speeding trucks, cars and motorcycles.

How'd you do it with that smart phone to your face? By the way, most of us consider the left a rather gutsy move and nearly impossible during rush hour.

Ride through any big city, near sundown, during peak traffic, to one of its burger joints or car dealerships, when dozens of intersections are sunny blind spots.

Then, that five-second text message I saw you sending while driving the length of a football field at 55 mph before you looked up - well ... your air bags might have pummeled up this lesson instead.

But you were lucky, and you are reading it here, which is less painful.

So understand that studies show nine percent of human beings enclosed in the automobiles around you are driving on their cell phones too, and they miss 50 percent of what's happening, reported the National Safety Council. That includes hands-free talking or voice-to-text, which they reported as more distracting than texting by hand.

My first comments to you, service member, were out of earshot when I passed you and not very constructive. Your danger was more of a gut feeling to me before my research. Now, I worry for you more.

Moreover, I did not turn around to find you and tell you that other traffic statistics on distracted driving reported a recent year when 6,000 Americans lost their lives to it and more than half a million suffered injuries.

I know that a good, fellow service member would do all they could to keep you and your loved one's safe from that.

Service member, did you ever see a loved one's battered body lying in a neuro-critical ICU bed? I saw my wife in one last January.

To see what remains of their vehicle, you'll wonder how they survived a font-end duel with a Freightliner. The thing is, they can't tell you what happened because they won't remember. There are also those breathing and feeding tubes, as well as that annoying induced comma thing - it gets in their way.

I know from my experience that you drive those 4,000+ pounds of forward energy with renewed eyes on the street, both hands on the wheel and your mind on the driving.

Hands free not risk free
Provided by The National Safety Council