Guest opinion: Living, driving in the moment

As Washingtonians, we are a strong and resilient culture encompassed in constant change, such as the weather. With respect to constant change, one of the most dynamic occurrences that most of us encounter on a daily basis is the act of driving, which brings us to one of the leading causes of death in our community: traffic collisions.

We call them “accidents” because they do not originate as intentional events. However, by definition, an accident happens by chance or without apparent cause. We all know that the vast majority of collisions are caused by human error. Sequences of events are set into motion by choices and decisions. This is not to detract from the exceptional tragedies caused by vehicle and environmental failures; but our purpose here is to focus on what we can change with our resilience.

Over the last 10 years, our Olympic Peninsula community (Clallam and Jefferson Counties combined) lost 99 people to crashes. That’s an average of 10 people per year.

The most common factors in fatal crashes throughout our State, with frequent overlap, include:

• impairment

• speed

• lane departure

• distraction

Distraction is becoming an increasing factor as people multitask while on the road. It increases the time it takes for people to react to the constant changes around them.

For perspective, at 55 miles per hour, a car travels 80 feet per second. A non-distracted driver typically perceives and reacts to a hazard in around 1.5 seconds, which is 120 feet of travel. That is before evasive action starts!

Now ask yourself, how long does it take to open and read a text while driving? Studies indicate that reading a text takes your eyes off the road for about 5 seconds, and then doubles reaction time. At highway speed for five seconds, a car drives 1.3 football fields, but when you’re driving, you’re not looking for a tackle or a foul.

So, what can we do? Well, we have to acknowledge that collisions are not accidents; they are a result of error. But with acknowledgment comes empowerment! As individuals, take control and own your drive. When you hit the road, ask yourself:

• Is my vehicle road ready (seat belts, car seats, tire pressure, clean windshield, etc.)?

• Am I present in the moment?

• Is my phone out of reach and temptation, or entrusted with a passenger?

• Is my navigation system pre-programmed?

• Am I aware of my surroundings and have escape routes if the other guy makes an error?

• Can I stop at my current speed if there’s a surprise at the intersection or around the corner?

Accidents don’t just happen. Give yourself credit for the control you have. Be in the moment and take the wheel!

Inspector Josh Ley is Target Zero Manager for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission-Region 1.