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2018 Scholarship Winners

Creating a Distracted Driving Family Plan

At Parnall Law, we believe in giving back to the community. And one of the best ways to give back is to support the young people in our community who we feel will continue to “pay it forward.”

This year, Parnall Law Firm asked students to ’Create a “Distracted Driving Family Plan” within which you address the safety of your family by proactively committing to a plan that avoids the occurrence(s) of distracted driving by you and the members of your family. We had many great submissions and chose four winners giving away $6,000 in scholarships in our essay contest. We would like to congratulate those students who won and recognize their thought-provoking work.

First Place – $2,500

  • Javier Pavia, Albuquerque High School

Second Place – $1,500

  • Claire O’Malley, University of New Mexico

Third Place (tie) – $1,000 each

  • Joaquin Madrid Larranaga, Albuquerque High School
  • David Armendariz, Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

First Place: Javier Pavia

As I am driving to take my little sister to school, I begin observing others on the road, while my sister is telling me “Javy, can you tie my shoe, Javy, change the station, Javy, sign this paper for me” then my phone begins to ring, that’s when I realize …distractions are all around me.  From phones to passengers to changing the radio to simply other drivers.   Distracted driving is known as a growing epidemic. As a teenager, you can imagine the amount of times that I have been faced with distracted driving; 77% of teens feel sure they can safely text and drive, yet eleven teens die every day as a result. I hate to admit this but I am guilty of falling for the dangerous text message habit loop. I hear a ding, I check my message and I am rewarded with the latest and greatest school gossip. Phones have become an addiction; it has plagued millions of people; can you believe we check our phone 110 times per day? Information is the reward, and we’ve developed quite an appetite for it. Teens are not the only one’s guilty of texting and/or talking while driving, I see it all around me, including my family. People don’t realize the fatal impact that texting/talking while driving can have on someone, until it’s happened to them. Some people are fortunate to learn a valuable lesson; however, some people don’t survive to capture the lesson. As teenagers, we enjoy having our friends in the vehicle with us, conversing and amused by their behavior, eager to “snap chat” the next step in your life, and for what? Is the five second communication worth risking your life? It’s thrilling and entertaining, but let’s be realistic, it’s dangerous! Passengers in a vehicle are dangerous in general, whether it be friends, siblings, parents etc. when driving with passengers your full attention isn’t on the road, you find yourself distracted, talking and listening, deriving your attention from the road. Passengers account for 5% of all distracted driving accidents. As majority of people, while driving, I appreciate a good tune on the radio, the heater keeping me warm, and the AC keeping me cool. But we all know, sometimes that song is aching your ear, the heater has sweat dripping down your face, or the A/C has caused goose bumps on your body, so what do you do? It’s simple, you take your eyes off the road to change the station or adjust the air, it’s innocent, right! At least we think it is, although it’s innocence causes 2% of all distracted driving accidents. Driving is crucial to our everyday lives; as in today’s society, so are cell phones and social media. While driving the road should be the driver’s main priority. I know it’s easy to say, but a driver should be able to defuse and ignore all distractions. However, I know first-hand, this is quite a challenge. We know we shouldn’t use our phones behind the wheel, so why do so many flaunt their safety and the safety of others? Well, if you have gotten away with it once, you think you will get away with it again, but eventually it catches up to you. “Texting while driving is six times more dangerous than driving drunk, teens are four times more likely than adults to get into car crashes when talking or texting.” The statistics continue to grow, there has to be a solution. After researching and composing this essay, I have become more aware of the consequences of distracted driving, so my family and I implemented a plan, requiring the driver and all passengers to silence our phones and place them in the glove compartment prior to departure and will remain secured in the glove compartment until our destination. “Better left unread than dead”

Second Place: Claire O’Malley

Driving while distracted is one of the most dangerous things a person could do, however the majority of us do it every day. Driving while texting, snacking, or dosing off are all examples of dangerous driving behaviors that many falsely believe are not dangerous or “not as bad as driving drunk.” The main issue with distracted driving is how easy it is to do and how accepted it is in our society. As a culture we tend to praise the man so dedicated to his job that he uses his time during commutes to make phone calls and do business. Cars themselves are now coming more equipped to distract us with high-tech sound systems and Bluetooth connectivity allowing us to be constantly connected to our phones. A study performed by the US Department of Transportation states that at any given moment 660,000 drivers are using their electronic devices. One instance that sticks out in my mind when asked about distracted driving occurred several months into my sophomore year of high school. Many of my friends and I had just gotten our drivers licenses and were excited to experience freedom. One night my friend and I were on our way to dinner driving down a fairly busy street when to my absolute horror he pulled his phone out of his pocket and started texting then scrolling through Snapchat and Instagram. When my friend noticed the look of complete shock on my face he just laughed and said “well I check the road every few seconds so its fine!” At the time I didn’t say anything because we had just recently become friends and I didn’t want to seem like a nag. Looking back now I realize how ignorant I was not to say anything, because my slightly distracted pall could’ve killed the both of us and several others. We were lucky no one stopped short or swerved into our lane. Even if we are safe drivers ourselves, there is always more we could do to end distracted driving. Something that works well with my friends and I is for the driver to hand their cell phone to one of the passengers who is then in charge of changing the music and reading/ responding to any of the driver’s incoming text messages. If you are traveling alone and have trouble ignoring texts and calls, apps such as Live2Txt automatically silence all notifications while you are driving and respond to any texts you receive with a message you can customize to say something along the lines of “I’m driving right now and will respond when I reach my destination.” As advanced as technology is, it cannot prevent other distracted driving behaviors such as driving while tired or intoxicated. The responsibility to prevent these falls to every individual. We need to recognize when we are too tired or too drunk to drive. Apps like Uber Lyft are helpful because they allow users to summon a (sober) driver to take them home which then eliminates the danger the inebriated person posed themselves to themselves and other drivers. In conclusion, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver distraction is the cause of ten percent of fatal crashes and 18 percent of crashes with injuries. The same study also reported that 480 of the 3,154 people killed in distraction related crashes were not in the offending vehicle. These statistics show how distracted driving is still ruining thousands of lives despite being easily preventable. As a society we need to take responsibility to end this tragedy by acknowledging and reminding our friends and family of the danger of distracted driving.

Third Place: Joaquin Madrid Larranaga

The slamming of brakes, the screeching of tires, the screams of the innocent, are all too common on New Mexico roads. As of 2014, nearly one third of all crashes in New Mexico were caused by distracted driving. Perhaps the most disheartening problem is the fact that most New Mexico residents do not understand what distracted driving is. Prior to taking a driver education class, I often witnessed my friends drive while distracted. They would get in the car and immediately plug their phone into their aux cord and play music through the car’s speakers. However, once their phone was connected, every single notification they received would be broadcast throughout the car. The most dangerous aspect of this was the fact that they would often answer texts while driving! However, at the time, I did not think of this as distracted driving. I trusted my friend’s ability to multitask and put our lives on the line. Multitasking while driving, specifically while using a cell phone, causes driver attention to decrease by almost 50%. This decrease causes the driver to be less aware of their surroundings, therefore contributing to more crashes. However, distracted driving stems from more than just cell phone use. The radio, flashy billboards, and even other passengers can be distracting to the driver. Fortunately, drivers can take steps to protect themselves from the dangers of distracted driving. Drivers can minimize distractions from their cell phones by turning them off and putting them out of sight. Drivers can also refrain from listening to the radio at extreme volumes. In addition, drivers can remind passengers that driving is a complicated task and requires a lot of concentration. Even though distracted driving is a big problem in New Mexico, drivers have the resources to minimize distraction.

Third Place: David Armendariz

One of the most dangerous aspects about driving in contemporary society happens to be distracted driving. A distracted driver has their eyes on something else rather than on the road where their conscious should be, has their hands somewhere else rather than on the steering wheel, or has their mind somewhere else. Whether a driver happens to be on their cellular device, changing the radio station, or simply taking their eyes off the road, the risk of getting into a car accident greatly increases because of the distractions. What appears to be a major contributor to the topic of distracted drivers comes to be smartphones. According to a study from a New York Times article titled It’s Time to Take Action Against Distracted Drivers, the youngest drivers in the study appeared to be the ones using their mobile device the most while driving. In addition to the terrifying results, young adults happen to have the highest crash rates. If this does not grab one’s attention to make a change and put a stop to distracted driving think about all the bad things that can happen when eyes are not on the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day approximately 9 people are killed and 1,000 people are injured because of a distracted driver. Prior to conducting some research on this topic, I personally had no idea about these numbers caused by someone distracted behind the wheel. I sit here and think about all the times that I have been on my phone either texting, sending a picture through snapchat, scrolling through social media, changing my music, and even eating. I know for a fact that everytime I get behind the wheel and happen to be driving by myself, I take my phone out and instantly become distracted. However, I am more cautious when someone is with me or if someone has their phone out when they are driving, I tell them to get off and to drive safe. I realize now that I should never be a distracted driver because anything can happen at any moment. Because of this, I will be making a plan not just for my family, but also for friends and anyone who needs it as I will strive to decrease the numbers because nobody should risk or be at risk of losing their lives from something so easily preventable. Many ways exist to prevent one from being a distracted driver. I will be listing some of the obvious ways that should be the simplest things to do but that many forget about or just choose not to care for, while others may be alternatives that can help break habits of becoming distracted while driving. By simply turning off cell phones and turning them back on once arriving at a destination, keeping hands on the wheel at all times, choosing a music playlist before beginning to drive, not taking eyes off of the road, and driving safe, one can reduce the risk of car accidents. According to the European Journal of Social Psychology, a study found that it took on average 66 days to form a habit. By breaking the bad habit of texting while driving or simply avoiding any other distraction while behind the wheel, one can form new habits that ultimately become essential towards being a safe driver and not one at risk. Laws already exist that prohibit drivers from some distractions, so it should already be in people’s precautions that they are not only breaking the law but putting themselves and others at risk. For people who have trouble doing the simple tasks, newer phone updates and phone apps are beginning to implement new settings that disallow the usage of the phone or the app from being used after a certain speed. One can find new technology useful to their driving and can help them avoid being a distracted driver. Ultimately, while for many it has become a habit of being distracted while driving, it is not easy to break and form new ways, but it is better to be safe than at risk. More and more deaths occur as a result of this, and that should be the number one motive on why distracted driving needs to stop. Personally, I will no longer use my phone while I drive and only focus on the road. Additionally, I will advocate and work towards creating a world of distracted-free drivers.