116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As a senior risk control representative for UFG Insurance in Cedar Rapids, Shawn O'Brien is trained to spot potential threats. But nothing prepared him for what happened in 2011.
He was driving home when an oncoming car rounded a curve in the road, crossed the centerline and crashed head-on into the vehicle in front of O’Brien. Swerving to miss the crash, O’Brien’s SUV landed on its side in the ditch.
The cause of the accident — distracted driving. The oncoming driver was reaching for their cellphone, and two people died as a result.
O’Brien hopes other people will take his story to heart and learn about the dangers of distracted driving. His employer created an educational campaign to remind drivers that “Life is worth it. Distracted driving is not.” O’Brien shares his story in a short video posted on the UFG Worth It website, ufgworthit.com.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, raising awareness of this growing problem. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving killed 3,142 people in 2019 — a 10 percent increase from 2018.
According to the National Safety Council, more than 700 people are injured in distracted driving crashes every day in the United States.
While most people assume texting on a cellphone is the main cause of distracted driving, a variety of other behaviors can be just as dangerous.
“There’s such an emphasis on texting because it involves all three types of distracted driving,” said Katie Jensen, UFG’s community relations coordinator and Worth It liaison.
She explained the three main types of distracted driving: visual distractions that take a driver’s eyes off the road; manual distractions that take a driver’s hands off the wheel; and cognitive distractions that mentally preoccupy a driver and make them slow to respond.
Talking or texting on a cellphone or programming an in-vehicle system diverts a person’s attention away from driving. Eating or drinking in the car, putting on makeup or turning to talk to a passenger or to help a child can seem innocent enough … until they create a dangerous driving situation.
One of the best ways to combat distracted driving is to do all necessary prep work before starting the car. This includes adjusting mirrors, making sure all passengers are buckled up, directions are programmed into the GPS, and cellphones are either turned off or put on Do Not Disturb.
Don’t be lulled into thinking a hands-free device is a safe solution. Talking on the phone in your car, even on a hands-free device, can still divert your attention from the task at hand.
The UFG Worth It campaign encourages drivers to pledge not to drive distracted. To date, more than 6,700 people have signed Worth It pledge cards, promising to leave their phone alone every time they drive. UFG also has awarded 35 scholarships to high school students in an essay contest about distracted driving.
“Thousands of people are being more thoughtful behind the wheel,” Jensen said.
Earlier this month, in recognition of Distracted Driving Awareness Month, UFG launched a new interactive infographic on the Worth It website. The interactive game allows a player to help cartoon driver Bill make the best choices to arrive safely at home. Each decision comes with an enlightening fact about distraction-free driving.
“Bill faces the same choices we all make when we get in the driver’s seat,” Jensen said. “Put the phone away or don’t; answer the text or wait; eat the snack now or later — all of these distracting choices present themselves at some point to any driver. The safest thing we can do is make the right decision in that moment because no distraction is worth the crash that could result.”
• UFG’s Worth It campaign includes a collection of free resources: printable materials and online presentations available to download in English or Spanish. Groups also can request an in-person talk presented by a UFG risk consultant. To date, UFG staff have provided 400 presentations, many by Shawn O’Brien.