A Risk on the Road
CINDY R. MCCLENDON
Garrison Safety Office
Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico
It was Thursday afternoon and my company was having its end-of-the-day formation. I was looking forward to the beginning of a four-day weekend. When it was time for the safety briefing, my company commander spoke first, saying the usual, “Don’t drink and drive, don’t drink underage, etc.” Next up was the first sergeant. He began by saying how important every Soldier was to the company. From that point on, I didn’t hear a word he said because I was too busy mentally planning my weekend. I thought about getting my hair and nails done, what I would wear to the club that night and calling my boyfriend to arrange to meet up afterward.
Finally, the first sergeant finished his safety briefing and we were released until Tuesday morning. I ran to my room, changed out of my uniform and dashed to my car. Traffic was congested on the road, but that didn’t prevent me from picking up my cellphone and trying to call my boyfriend to make arrangements. I tried to call him twice but got no answer. While I was dialing his number a third time, I almost ran into the car in front of me. Oops! Still, I got no answer.
I got my hair and nails done and tried calling my boyfriend again, but the phone just rang. While driving back to post, I decided since I couldn’t reach him on the phone, I’d just send him a text. I began texting as I drove, looking down at the phone, pressing two letters and then looking back up at where I was going. This went on until I looked up and saw I’d drifted into the oncoming lane and was about to hit a car head-on. I quickly dropped the phone and pulled back into my lane. However, when I dropped my phone, it landed on the passenger-side floorboard. Now that I was back in my lane, I wanted to finish my text. I tried several times to reach over and pick up my phone, each time taking my eyes off the road for just a second or two.
I finally reached my phone and consoled myself with the thought, “I only drove off the road once or twice.” I started texting again when I suddenly heard a car horn. I looked back up at the road and quickly hit my brakes as my car skidded into the side of a vehicle in the adjacent lane. I remember seeing a “Baby on Board” sign on the side window. I hoped there wasn’t really a baby inside.
I immediately got out of my car and heard a baby crying. I thought, “What have I done?” I called 911 and then asked the lady in the car, “Are you and the baby all right?” Her reply was, “If you hadn’t been texting and driving, we’d all be all right.” I called my first sergeant, who immediately came to the scene of the accident. When the police asked what happened, the lady didn’t tell them I was texting while driving; however, she had told my first sergeant. He said, “Didn’t you listen to my safety briefing? I said absolutely no texting while driving. It’s just as bad as drinking and driving!”
My first sergeant was very disappointed with me. He said, “Up until this point, I thought you were a responsible Soldier.” This made me feel even worse. I had plenty of warning signs on the road that day while I was driving, but I chose to ignore each one.
How could I be so irresponsible? My car was wrecked, I’d nearly injured two people, my first sergeant was disappointed and the company commander took away my four-day weekend and many more to follow. Still, I consider myself lucky. I could’ve killed myself and two other people.
Since that day, I’ve never again talked or texted on a cellphone while driving. I pay close attention to safety briefings and remind my fellow Soldiers to never text and drive. After all, is it really worth a collision to have a conversation?
Did You Know?
Talking on a cellphone — even hands-free — or texting or programming an in-vehicle infotainment system diverts your attention away from driving. To remind motorists of the dangers of distracted driving, April is designated Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Whether you’re operating a forklift, semi-truck or just heading home in your car after work, attentive driving is more important than ever. Keep yourself and others around you safe and “just drive.” To learn more, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving.