The saga of young Joe

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The saga of young JoeBy Greg Zyla

With more drivers on the road this 2013 holiday season than ever, it’s time for our yearly column on the dangers of drinking and driving and/or using your cell phone while behind the wheel.

This is the story of young Joe, a fun loving 21-year-old who is full of life, has lots of friends and is a good person. He also has a great collector car, a 1969 Mustang Boss 302 that he loves to drive.

Joe could be your friend, son, parent or husband. He’s having a great time at a holiday party, joining in on all the fun. He’s overdone the eating and drinking, something many of us do each year.

Now it’s 1 a.m., and time to head home, which is just six miles away. Joe knows he’s had one too many of the alcoholic drinks, but doesn’t feel it will impair his driving abilities.

Thank goodness he’s alone in his Mustang.

Joe isn’t aware that on this night, he’ll become one of the 32,000-plus drivers that died in car accidents in 2013. Even though these numbers are the lowest since 1949, he’ll add to the statistic that involves alcohol related deaths and also join a new measure of fatalities related to distracted driving (cell phone, texting, etc.). Further, his death will be recorded in the 25-percent statistic group of impaired driving fatalities that occur between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m. A new statistic, cell phone/texting, causes somewhere around 20-percent of all accidents reported, not just the fatal ones.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), unveiled its new “distraction-affected crashes” data recently and it’s not good.

Fatalities in distraction-affected crashes increased by more than 2-percent, with 3,267 fatalities in 2010 to 3,331 fatalities in 2011 to approximately 3,600 in 2012. With this new measure focusing on crashes in which a driver is most likely distracted, NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) now records a broad range of potential distractions. Included are the cell phones, as the new measure focuses on distractions that are most likely to affect crash involvement, such as dialing a cellular phone or texting. Joe will also be one of these “distracted-affected” casualties, adding to the percentile.

NHTSA information indicates that driver distraction continues to be a significant problem given the difficulty of proof and a driver’s reluctance to admit, lack of witnesses, or death of the driver. NHTSA believes the actual number of distracted crashes could be much higher than the estimated 390,000 people injured in distraction-affected crashes the last few years.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is leading the effort to stop texting and cell phone use behind the wheel. Since 2009, two national distracted driving summits have been held, banned texting and cell phone use for commercial drivers, encouraged states to adopt tough laws, and launched several campaigns to raise public awareness about the issue. ( is your resource for learning more about distracted driving. Get the facts, get involved, and help us keep America’s roadways safe.)

Back to Joe.

Joe is not aware he is speeding. He’s going 65-mph and approaching a curve in the highway that should be taken at 35-mph. His reactions, meanwhile, have been slowed by the alcohol drinks. Additionally, his cell phone rings and he’s distracted as he tries to answer it. Distracted driving is a dangerous epidemic on America’s roadways as in 2012, some 3,328 were killed in distracted driving crashes.

Joe “misses the curve” by quite a bit, and to make matters worse, he forgot to buckle his seat belt. Before Joe even knows what is happening, his car is off the dark country road and headed directly toward a huge tree. His 1969 Boss 302 does not have airbags.

There is no correcting. Joe’s car hits a tree with a resounding crunch.

At 1/10th of a second, his Mustang’s front bumper and grill work collapse.

At 2/10ths of a second, the hood crumbles, rises, and smashes into the windshield. The grill work now disintegrates.

At 3/10ths of a second Joe is sprung upright from his seat. His legs are immediately broken, and his knees crash against the dashboard. The steering wheel bends under his grip.

At 4/10ths of a second, the front of the car is completely destroyed and is now dead still. However, the rear end of the car is still traveling at 55-mph, and the 700-pound engine and accessories are crunched into the tree.

At 5/10ths of a second, the impact rips Joe’s shoes clean off his feet. The chassis bends in the middle, and Joe’s head is slammed into the windshield. The car’s rear-end begins its downward fall as its spinning wheels churn into the ground.

At 6/10ths of a second, the entire body of the car is twisted out of shape. The front seat continues to ram forward.

At 7/10ths of a second, Joe’s chest is pinned against the steering wheel shaft. His internal organs crash against his rib cage.

At 8/10ths of a second, Joe is dead. He’s now a statistic.

It’s not just young drivers like Joe who die on our nation’s highways as adult drivers also become statistics from mistakes behind the wheel. Of these accidents, many are alcohol, distracted or a combination of both, like the late Joe.

Please plan your travel carefully this holiday season, and never be in a hurry. If the roads turn nasty, pull off safely at a roadside rest or stop and have a coffee at a restaurant. And forget using your cell phone while driving as your passengers can handle that.

Finally, if you must stop to rest, never pull off and park on the side of a road—it’s dangerous sitting there as the percentage of being struck by an oncoming vehicle rises greatly.

Keep in mind that more deaths per mile traveled will occur during holiday season. Have a safe 2013 Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, etc., and happy New Year’s Eve.

Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla