Two years after he was seriously injured by a distracted driver, Medford architect Ken Ogden is hopeful a new campaign launched by ODOT last week will encourage drivers to think about the consequences of distracted driving.
Ogden, 54, was riding his motorcycle when the crash occurred.
“I had stopped for a left turn two blocks from home," Ogden recalled. "I had seen them coming down the hill before I turned right and I noticed the driver was looking down. I went 100 yards after turning right and stopped again to make that left turn ... and that’s when they hit me,” he said.
“I can remember every moment of that accident from the first moment of impact, thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been hit by a car.' ... I remember a truck coming uphill in the opposite direction and I closed my eyes, bracing for the truck to hit me, too. Luckily that driver was not distracted and was able to stop. The driver of the vehicle waiting to turn after me knew (the teen) was going to hit me and was watching in the rear view and pulled over to help.”
Ogden was unconscious for a time between the crash and being loaded onto an ambulance but vividly remembers the teen “standing there, car door open and staring ... phone in hand.”
Distracted driving crashes occur on average every three hours in Oregon, according to a state task force report. Eight people die and more than 1,161 people are injured by distracted driving crashes every day across the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Oregon Department of Transportation officials say distracted-driving-related crashes have shown a dramatic uptick. The Oregon Legislature approved House Bill 2597, which takes affect Oct. 1, allowing stiffer penalties — increasing the maximum fine from $500 to $2,000 — for drivers caught using cellular devices.
The state’s new campaign, Drive Healthy, encourages drivers not to drive distracted. The program allows businesses, agencies and individuals to compete for points, getting “dinged” if they access their phones while in a moving vehicle.
Tom Fuller, ODOT communications manager, said the agency's new mobile app, unlike anything developed to date, can be used to offer an incentive for drivers who ignore their cellphones. For instance, the program's website (www.drivehealthy.org) notes, parents could set up a reward system for their kids that's based on the points they accumulate in a month.
The website says the app designers want to "gamify healthy driving by providing immediate feedback on safe driving behavior" and creating the opportunities for safe-driving competitions in families, organizations and businesses and among friends. A similar program in Boston cut phone distraction by 47 percent.
Partnering with AAA and Oregon State Police, ODOT officials took a unique approach to attack what Fuller said is becoming an epidemic.
“Studies show people will look at their phones dozens and dozens of times per day, sometimes that many times per hour, because our brains get endorphins when we’re using the phone,” Fuller said.
“We don’t think rationally because that part of our brain is overridden by the addiction of looking at our phones instead of, “Maybe I should look at the road because I’m going 60 miles per hour and could run into somebody.”
Fuller said he “almost got mowed over by a semi” when the driver was looking down at his phone. The driver looked up just in time to swerve.
Fuller said developers capitalized on society’s addiction to cellphones in creating the app.
“The science behind why we’re doing the campaign is to embrace that need people have for immediate feedback. If someone goes to unlock their phone, a message pops up that reminds them not to drive distracted,” he says.
“People are competitive. Our hope is they’ll download the app and want to compete to win with their friends. Maybe they’ll realize how often they’re looking at their phones in the car and stop to think. Our philosophy was, ‘Technology got us into this mess, maybe technology will get us out of it.’ "
The crash that injured Ogden crushed his left leg and hand, tore his rotator cuff in his left shoulder, broke his ribs and shattered his left ankle. Despite lasting physical effects and the impacts the crash had on his family and employees at his firm due to his lost time at work, Ogden considers himself “lucky.”
“I was an avid hiker, skier, rafter ... we used to hike miles and miles every weekend and I can’t do that anymore because, a couple miles into it, I’m in a lot of pain,” he said.
“But I thank God it wasn’t my right hand. I’m an architect and I draw. My hobby is pen and ink rendering. I can’t make a fist or close my left hand. If it had been my right hand ... I’m just so grateful it wasn’t.”
Since the crash, Ogden said he realizes, more than ever, the epidemic of distracted driving.
“Any time you’re waiting to turn at an intersection, if you look around, I can guarantee you you’ll see someone on the phone,” he said, noting the issue is with both younger and older drivers alike.
“I’ll be set at an intersection and make eye contact with someone and hold up my phone. Nine out of 10 times I’ll get the finger.”
Ogden marvels at an overall disconnect caused by a device, essentially, intended to provide communication.
“I saw a sign for a national monument somewhere that said, ‘Put your phones down for 10 minutes and just look at the scenery,'” he said.
“People are so obsessed and reliant that they can’t stop and observe natural beauty or even have a regard for life around them. How hard is it to just put the phone down while you’re driving?”
— Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.