Drive distraction-free this Christmas
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My last Christmas with my father was when I was 24 years old. He was killed eight months later at a Pennsylvania intersection because a 17-year-old got lost. While driving to her friend’s house, her younger sister and brother in tow, she called her friend’s mother for directions. She ran through a red light, thinking it was green, and her SUV crashed into my dad’s car, killing him instantly.

In the courthouse parking lot after the teen’s trial, which lasted just one hour and concluded with virtually no repercussions (a license revoked for one year, a $200 fine), the teen’s uncle walked up to my family to offer his condolences. Then he said that the teen was a perfectionist who always had too much on her plate.

I had to sympathize with this. I wasn’t much older than she was, and I too was an extreme perfectionist. I almost always had too much on my plate.

At this time of year, how many of us can admit that this is true of ourselves? How many of us start to feel that holiday-time pressure to make our list, check it twice and get those gifts delivered?

How many of us emulate the spirit of giving by trying to be old Saint Nick?

Here’s the thing about Santa, though: Santa is magic. He can land his sleigh on your rooftop, shimmy down your chimney (or fire escape, as the case may be) and, with a wink and a nod, place presents under the tree.


He gets it all done in one night. And he’s not calling anyone for directions.

We mere mortals don’t have the luxury of a completely open road, no speed limits, flying reindeer, a never-ending scroll and gifts that somehow fit into one sack.

Most of us share a congested highway with other frustrated Santas. Our never-ending scroll is an iPhone app, our GPS no match for Rudolph’s nose. Mrs. Claus keeps calling us, wanting to know when we’ll be home. And those elves won’t stop sending us selfies.

Santa doesn’t get bored and check Facebook while waiting to arrive on your rooftop. He doesn’t ignore his seat belt because it’s too much of a hassle. He doesn’t drink one too many eggnogs in your living room before heading home.

MarketWatch says that according to the travel and motor club AAA, “the number of Americans planning to travel for the holidays this year is set to reach the highest number on record, with more than 103 million people making trips between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. The vast majority will be driving, bringing 2.3 million more people on the roads than there were at this time last year.”

This should be a good thing. Gas prices are down, employment is up. More people can afford to visit their families. 

But those numbers get scary when you remember that car crash fatalities went up 10 percent this year in the U.S. — 8 percent in 2015 — according to the National Safety Council. These are the biggest year-over-year increases since the mid-1960s.

The (Fredericksburg) Free-Lance Star asked Warren Buffett, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, to what he attributed the increase. He said, “‘If cars are better—and they clearly are—drivers must be worse.’” The article continued to explain that “what is making drivers worse is the distractions that divert their attention from the matter at hand: Navigating of a ton or more of steel machinery at highway speeds through an obstacle course of signals and signs, pedestrians and bicycle riders, and a sea of other vehicles, many of which are being driven aggressively, discourteously or inattentively.”

“When you just talk on the phone,” the article says, “your focus is on the conversation and your brain activity associated with driving is reduced by almost 40 percent. Texting while driving, or checking out Facebook or Twitter on your smartphone, increases your chances of being involved in a crash by 23 times over distraction-free driving. It is unequivocally the most dangerous behavior to engage in when driving.”

Three years ago, just two days before Christmas, retired Amherst, N.H., Fire Chief John Bachman decided to go check the mail. At the same time, a man driving through John’s quiet neighborhood had just found a free moment to send a voice-to-text. In the mere seven seconds it took the man to do this, his car struck John, sending him flying over a snowbank. John’s wife, Marilyn, watched the whole thing transpire from the front door. John’s body sustained massive internal injuries, and by the time he reached the emergency room, he and Marilyn both knew it was the end. He squeezed her hand twice, their code for “I love you.” And John was gone.

I’m tired of being told that we drivers can’t help ourselves, that the distractions are unavoidable, that we can’t tune them out.

And I know that you, in your heart of hearts, don’t want to accidentally kill another John Bachman. You don’t want to find what seems to be a free moment to send a text while driving and inadvertently change a family’s Christmas forever. You don’t want to get lost on your way to a friend’s house, call for directions and then kill my dad.

Don’t let your mission to be Santa for your family this season make you forget about all the other folks trying to be Santa for their own.


Laura Carney is a magazine copy editor, writer and illustrator who lives in Montclair, N.J. She has written for The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Runner’s World, The Associated Press, OK! magazine, McSweeney’s, Monkeybicycle, Vagabondage Press and other publications. She and Marilyn Bachman are National Safety Council survivor advocates. She is writing a memoir about her father.

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