While traveling in Ireland, I was introduced to a new word: eejit. At first I thought that this was simply the Irish pronunciation of "idiot," but I was astonished to see it spelled the way it is in the prominent Irish Times newspaper. After hearing it repeatedly, I started to get the sense that it was exactly what I'd been looking for: a term that pretty much sums up what makes a bad driver so bad.
They chat on their phones. They weave in and out of lanes without signaling. They cut you off. They tailgate. They eat, drink, read and put on makeup behind the wheel. They look down to text as often as they watch the road. When it rains, they drive as fast and as recklessly as ever -- more so, even.
There are only two conclusions about what is going through their minds. Either they don't know what they're doing is wrong, or they don't care. As the CEO of a safe driving company, I'm not sure which troubles me more. To put it plainly: What's to be done about all these eejit drivers?
I Drive Safely is committed to improving driving safety, with a nearly 15-year presence in online driver's training that has helped more than five million people become safer behind the wheel. Our Heads Up, Hands on the Wheel campaign is currently mobilizing advocacy specifically against the rising tide of distracted driving -- with the popular Watch Out Loud! teen video contest currently as its centerpiece. We're passionate about helping everyone, because that's who makes the road safe for you and your family -- everyone else.
If the roads were empty, driving would be simple. We know where we are going, and we know how to control the car. There would be very few crashes. But roads are congested, and we can't control other vehicles. Like it or not, driving safety is more about interactions with other vehicles than anything else. We are all interconnected on the road, and our individual safety is dependent upon the actions of other drivers. When those drivers are eejits, we are all at risk.
How can we get these eejit drivers to change? Leaning on the horn or waving a one finger salute may help us release some frustration, but it is not a great way to educate people or get them to change behavior.
Like so many problems, a true solution can't be achieved through laws or punishments alone. What's required is consciousness-raising. And before that sneer starts curling on your lips, remember that it's been done before for driving, and very recently.
Since the 1970s, the incidence of fatal or injurious car crashes in the United States has been steadily declining. That's partly because, due to legislation, all cars were required to have seat belts.
But it's also because we managed to convince each other to use them. It took decades of advocacy to achieve an end many thought impossible: almost 90 percent of drivers now use their seat belts every time they get behind the wheel. This saves thousands of lives and has made the car-crash injury and fatality statistics rosier every year.
Today, with the advent of smart phones, the trend towards safer driving is reversing. This is sorry news for those of us who earn our living trying to make the road a safer place. But it's also an opportunity for (you guessed it!) consciousness-raising. And it's more important now than ever before.
Fundamentally, this problem isn't about new technology. In fact, it's not new at all. It's quite simply a matter of courtesy -- the Golden Rule that governs all human behavior (not including Twitter): do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Be aware when you're on the road, not just of the traffic lights, but of what it means to be among human beings you have power over and who have power over you. Driving is a social activity, and it has to be understood that way. If you were taught to open doors for people, to say please and thank you and to acknowledge others with a smile or a wave, you should know how to extend similar courtesies on the road. Use your turn signals. Allow other drivers to change lanes. Give other cars room to maneuver.
If each of us practices the Golden Rule while driving, our holiday travels will be much safer and less stressful. Happy holidays!
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Harvard School of Public Health in an effort to call more attention to the dangers of texting while driving. Distracted driving is the cause of 350,000 crashes per year, and the series will be putting a spotlight on efforts being made to combat the crisis by the public and private sectors and the academic and nonprofit worlds. In addition to original reporting on the subject, we'll feature at least one post a day every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; for more information on the national effort, click here.
And if you'd like to share your story or observation, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.