About 12 years ago, a decision I made could have been fatal.
It was early evening, and I was leaving a class at SFU Harbour Centre. I remember feeling excited, because I had gotten a new mobile phone. As I drove my car up Richards street, I came to a stop light. I took my new, cherry-red, phone out of my pocket and began to punch in the number of one of my friends, excited to make arrangements to meet up later that night.
In the middle of entering the number I looked up to check the light. Seeing that it had turned green, I accelerated through the intersection. The next thing I heard was a loud horn and tires screeching. The rear, driver’s side of my car was smashed by an oncoming vehicle. As I spun around the intersection, I felt as though everything was in slow motion…I somehow managed to regain control of the car and, finally, came to a stop, facing the opposite direction. My heart was pounding…my hands were shaking.
What on earth had just happened? I had a green light! That person must have run a red and smashed into me. They must be drunk, I thought. I was shocked, and upset and furious.
Two bystanders helped my move my car to the side of the road. The woman who hit me was out of her car and walking towards me, screaming. She was accusing me of going through a red light…saying she had the right of way. I was so confused. Another woman, who had been standing on the corner, said she had seen the whole thing. I was sitting on a red light and the other woman had done nothing wrong. The accident was completely my fault.
It took me a while to understand what had happened. Basically, when I had looked up from my phone the green light I had seen was for the intersection a block ahead of me. Being distracted, I hadn’t realized this and went ahead, endangering both myself and the woman who (through no fault of her own) crashed into me.
I could have crashed into a pedestrian, I could have spun into oncoming traffic and killed myself…or someone else. I truly believe it was just luck that my accident was not more serious.
For many years, I denied using my phone had caused the accident. I told people I was changing the radio station and had looked up and seen the wrong light. I was so ashamed of myself for allowing the seeming urgency of phoning someone from my car to take precedent over what should be the most important thing when you are driving: paying attention.
I feel really lucky that I learned such an important lesson about distracted driving so early. It infuriates me when I see people texting or talking on their phones when driving. I got off easy. Yes, my car was a write-off, but I walked away from that accident and, thank God, so did the woman who crashed into me.
Please don’t think you are immune to being in an accident or causing an accident due to distracted driving. I really believe that until we hold each other accountable for these kinds of actions (much like we do with impaired driving), not much will change. Distracted driving is now more lethal than impaired driving — on average, 88 B.C. motorists lose their life in distraction-caused crashes each year.
So, please, learn from my mistake. Put your phone away…really away. We are so addicted to our devices today, that it is almost compulsive to check them. If you see someone at an intersection texting or talking on the phone, hold them accountable. Give them a beep and tell them to get off their phone. Sure that’s uncomfortable, but you could save their life…or the life of someone else.