by Debbi Fincher
(This is the second in a month-long series of guest blog posts from National Safety Council survivor advocates. We are sharing our stories in honor of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.)
We lost our sons' nana to a man who was texting and driving about four years ago. The texting driver was also killed and the crash took the life of a third person, as well. Seven cars were impacted when this person chose to text and drive.
No one ever thinks it will happen to them. Unfortunately, nearly 431,000 people were injured in a distracted driver–caused crash in 2014 in the U.S. alone. That is like filling the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco Field eight times! Another 3,179 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver.
My son and I attended a conference in Chicago recently with the National Safety Council (NSC) to share our story. The room was filled with other people who were left behind when a loved one died in a distracted-driving crash. These needless crashes claimed the life of a vibrant family member. This survivor advocates group was not a group our family ever thought we’d be a part of, nor would we wish membership on anyone else. However, with vehicle crashes as the leading cause of workplace death, with distraction as a top factor, and distracted driving the leading cause of death among teens in America, we figured it’s time we start doing more about this.
The goal of this group is to share our stories in hope that someday others won’t have a distracted-driving story to tell. Some of us are moved to help change laws or advocate for stiffer penalties to help protect people from themselves and from harming others. Some will speak to youth, faith groups, schools, and businesses on how to curb this epidemic. Others will find their path leads them to learning how we pick up the pieces after such a devastating, preventable loss, how we realize that life does go on, although forever altered, and how we help others. Regardless where our paths go, they are forever woven together as a support system, and for that we are grateful.
Hope is the biggest takeaway from spending time with these strong and selfless advocates. How much easier it would be to just stay frozen in grief and pain. To be moved to action, so others won’t have to go through this type of sorrow and loss, brings hope to the human spirit that was damaged by the act of distracted driving. Sharing information to help create change, speaking up at a legislative hearing, meeting with community leaders to encourage company policies for employees not to use devices while driving, all of these things bring hope to this issue. We don’t have to let this trend continue. We hope you will be moved to focus on your drive and not wait until you are directly affected by distracted driving like we were. Remove the distractions from your ride. We are here to tell you, it can happen to you.
Let me break this down by telling you a few facts: Did you know, in over 30 studies researchers from the University of Utah found no benefit to using a hands-free device (as compared to a handheld device). Multitasking, or “cognitive distraction,” is a complicated request for your brain, and driving while talking on the phone can reduce your field of vision. Basically, we limit the area our brain is viewing out the windshield, which could result in missing valuable information to avoid a car crash. (AAA.com/distraction has even more on this groundbreaking research that the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety collaborated on with the University of Utah.)
The NSC has created a campaign called #TakeBackYourDrive and it’s perfectly timed to launch with Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April across the U.S. Instead of trying to conduct business on the road or catching up on your phone calls, maybe you can use this time in your car to recharge your own batteries. (nsc.org)
The NSC survivor advocates aren’t just stats; we are the families behind the numbers. Please don’t drive distracted.
Debbi Fincher resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Brad, and sons, Zach and Luke. She enjoys being with her family and traveling when possible. Debbi works on whale watch boats as a naturalist sharing her love of marine mammals and the beauty of a delicate ecosystem, the Salish Sea. She and her family are involved in The San Juan Island Prevention Coalition (sjipc.org), whose mission is to reduce substance abuse among youth and create a community culture for healthy choices for youth and adults. You can reach Debbi at fincher[at]rockisland.com and facebook.com/debbi.fincher.