Houston, we are in trouble. We are home to some of the nation’s most distracted drivers. How do I know this? Every day on my way to work in one of the country’s busiest Level I trauma centers, I can’t help but notice all of the other drivers looking down at their phones with their eyes off the road. It frightens me — as a trauma surgeon, as a commuter and as a mother. No text message, social media post or phone call is worth your life or the lives of those around you.
Texting and driving is a nationwide epidemic, but in Houston the problem is especially serious. Did you know we are the deadliest city for motorists as was reported by the Houston Chronicle? Distracted driving has become a leading cause of motor vehicle collisions in Harris County and surrounding areas. More than 3,000 people were killed across the country in 2016 due to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Houston, distraction was listed as a likely cause of more than 8,000 motor vehicle collisions.
As chief of trauma at Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, I see the damage and devastation caused by distracted driving. Our team does everything we can to save lives, yet for some survivors, their lives are forever altered because of their injuries.
I’ve witnessed firsthand the emotional impact that grips a family when they find out their loved one’s life has been altered or they have been killed because another driver was distracted. I have also been personally impacted. I am a survivor of a motor vehicle collision involving a distracted driver. Fortunately, I was able to walk away with minor injuries.
The reality is that trauma caused by distracted driving is preventable.
It’s time to put down our phones. To my fellow parents, I urge you to lead by example. Talk to your children, even before they are able to drive, about the dangers of using a phone behind the wheel. From a very young age, our kids are watching our behavior and looking to us to be their role models.
As a society, we have collectively advocated against drinking and driving. We are outraged when people get behind the wheel while intoxicated. I believe that distracted driving should merit that same level of outrage.
Not all driving conditions and scenarios are in a driver’s control, but there are things the driver can control, and the most important is reducing distractions and limiting risky behaviors. Through targeted prevention initiatives, Memorial Hermann is working to motivate the entire community to put down their phones and keep their eyes on the road. In 2014, we launched Live Your DREAMS, a program that teaches high school students about safe-driving behaviors. Recently, we began working with SAFE 2 SAVE, a free mobile app that rewards drivers for not using their cellphones when they are behind the wheel. Users receive points, that can be redeemed at select Houston area businesses, for every minute they refrain from using their mobile devices in the car. It is our hope that this app will help curtail distracted driving and help us all refocus on what’s important — creating a safe environment for everyone.
Join me in saving lives and making our community safer for my children and for your own. Take the pledge today to drive change in our great city so we all have an equal opportunity to get home safely.
McNutt is the chief of trauma at Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center