It’s that time of year again. School is out for summer and our nation’s youth should be out and about more frequently — perhaps not all of them, but enough to warrant a moment’s reflection on how to ensure their safety.
Of course, there will be nostalgia. Back when I was a kid, summers were filled with neighborhood youths riding bikes or roller skating around the neighborhood. Motorists in residential neighborhoods were watching out for all of us. Parks were local affairs and, again, responsible adults driving nearby were aware of our presence.
According to recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research, children under the age of 10 lack the cognitive development to accurately assess road dangers, such as relative speeds of approaching vehicles and whether or not it is safe to cross the street.
Back then — you know, when I was a kid — we must have had other cognitive inputs. My untested theory is that we all paid more attention to what was going on. Cultural learning involved standardized driver education and children who observed parental driving norms. Children had more opportunities to experience riding bikes and crossing the street.
Today, children watch DVDs in the back of SUVs and adults rely on backup cameras and divine intervention to drive their cars while they check their latest text messages. Riding bikes all over the neighborhood until sundown has given way to 20 minutes a week of supervised, helmeted cul-de-sac sojourns.
The NHTSA just released a study on distraction-affected crashes during 2014. They found that 10 percent of all fatality crashes, 18 percent of injury crashes and 16 percent of all police-reported crashes were affected by distraction. With 32,675 fatalities and 2.3 million injuries in 2014, the numbers of distraction-related fatalities and injuries are 3,267 and 420,000, respectively. That is one distraction-related injury every 75 seconds and one distraction-related fatality every two-and-a-half hours. And that is assuming that all motorists involved in a crash in 2014 were truthful about their level of distraction at impact.
So, we’ll call that a conservative estimate of the role that “technostractions” (and other types of distractions) play in road crash injury and death tolls. This is the world we have created for our children. This is the world our children will summer in.
We need to speak to our kids. We need to tell them to look both ways, to use the crosswalk, and to make eye contact to make sure the motorists around them are paying attention.
We need to talk to motorists (including ourselves). We need to implore motorists to pay attention, to care more about the world around them and its inhabitants and less about whether they are running late or the noise their phone made requires their immediate attention.
It is so easy to just not even know what is happening in the world. I mean, who know that distraction leads to one injury every 75 seconds or one fatality every 2.5 hours? And who knew that road crash injuries occur at a rate of one every 13 seconds, and road crash fatalities occur at a rate of one death every 15 minutes?
Who knew? I do. And now, so do you. This knowledge is staggering — it is inconceivable.
I started out to write a column about getting our children safely out in the sunshine, socializing with their friends, to get some exercise and live a healthier life.
But after reading this (and I wrote it), I’m rethinking the relative health and social benefits of leaving them in their dimly lit bedrooms with their video games, Pringles and fudge-striped cookies.