Driving while distracted

This morning on KZST, Brent Farris interviewed Jeff Murray. Perhaps you don’t know who Jeff is. But more likely than not, you are familiar with the names of his wife and child – Ling and Calli Murray. On December 1st, Ling held the hand of her 2-year old daughter as they crossed the busy road towards their home. One second, Ling was probably focused on the walk home, what she was going to make for dinner, on the toddling little girl next to her. In the next, she and her daughter were hit by a driver who didn’t see them in the crosswalk. Ling survived, but with numerous injuries that will take a lot of painful time to heal, and some may never heal at all. Her young daughter died instantly. (See article HERE)

If you’re like me, this story affected you. It made me think of my own children, trying not to let my thoughts wander to how I’d cope if they were killed like young Calli. I thought of Ling who, once awoken from her coma, asked to see her daughter repeatedly until Jeff finally had to tell her that Calli was no longer alive. And I thought of Jeff, who not only lost his daughter, but is now faced with many different drastic changes. His wife now needs round-the-clock care, something that I assure you does not run cheap. His day-to-day life now has a whole different direction. And the home they live in must be amended to be suitable for Ling once she comes home from the hospital.

This family’s life was changed instantly in the matter of seconds.

I listened to Jeff talk as I drove the kids to school this morning. We were all silent as he talked about the reality of their family today. I tried to hide the tears as they came to my eyes, but eventually gave up as they rolled down my cheeks. It wasn’t fair. It shouldn’t have happened. But it did, and their family was now paying the ultimate price.

But my thoughts have also been with the young teen that was behind the wheel that evening. It’s not clear what she was doing at the time of the accident. She could have been texting, she may have been on the phone, she could have just been changing the station on the radio. Whatever it was, she was distracted. And in the second her eyes were off the road, her car plowed into Ling and Calli, and changed all their lives forever.

That teenage girl could have been anyone. She could have been your daughter. She could have been your son. She could have been me, and she could have been YOU.

Yesterday I drove my kids home from school. We were following behind a boy who must have been about 17, driving a red car. As he drove, he was swerving all over the road. He kept drifting to one side, and then overcorrecting to get back on the road. I kept a short distance away to ensure that I didn’t get sucked into any accident he was prone to cause. And I watched in horror as he drifted again, this time almost taking out a bicyclist. I’m not even sure he was aware. I froze at the wheel, breathing a sigh of relief when he corrected just in time. But this time I got closer, my hand on the horn should he start to drift again. And I saw what was going on. While he was driving, he was preoccupied with something in the passenger seat. His head was down, turned towards the seat. And he drifted again. We were heading onto the freeway when I laid into the horn. The boy jerked his head up, moving back into the lane rather than off the side of the road where he was headed. And he took the next exit to get off the freeway – hopefully to park and find whatever he was looking for.

Yesterday, Healdsburg HIgh student Rebecca Friedemann wrote about Brett Callan, the 17-year old teen from Casa Grande High who died in 2004 when his racing friend, Joe Trombetta, flipped the car in a fatal attempt at impressing a couple girls. And she talked about how his story has shaped her awareness when she’s behind the wheel of a car.  And if you were a Sonoma County resident in 2007, you are very familiar with the case of 29-year old Ryan Karr and the ongoing trial of his car accident that resulted in the deaths of 5 family members, sparing only one little boy – now an orphan with only burn scars and lost limbs to show for those few moments when Karr’s eyes left the road. In the past year we’ve heard stories of the young girls who were hit while waiting at a bus stop, bicyclists mowed down by drifting cars, and pedestrians hit in the crosswalk…all accidents caused by drivers who just weren’t paying attention.

And just this morning I listened to Jeff Murray describe in a somber tone every fracture and injury his wife was left with, about burying his daughter 2 days before Christmas – which was also the day of her birthday – how much life had changed completely…. And as his voice rang out in our otherwise silent car, a woman sat in the driver’s seat of the car next to us, inching forward while her head was down….texting. And this was pointed out to me by my 9 year old son.

Driving a car is a huge responsibility. You are responsible for the lives of those inside your car. You are responsible for the lives of those outside the car. One wrong move and it can change life in an instant. Driving while intoxicated, while looking at your phone, while fiddling with the radio, while searching through your purse, while picking something up off the floor, or turning around to talk to the person in the backseat…. Are all those things really worth the lives of everyone around you? Is that text more important than someone’s grandmother, father, sister….

Is it more important than someone’s two year old daughter?

Parents, make the conversation of responsible driving a constant one. Point out those on the road who are driving while distracted to your child, letting them know what the unstable driving looks like on the outside of the vehicle. Put firm limits down if your teen has proven to be irresponsible while operating a vehicle.

And equally as important, BE AN EXAMPLE.

Put the phone away, out of sight. This is what I do now. Ever since the story of Calli unfolded, I leave my phone out of my reach while my car is in motion. No one’s life is worth a text or a phone call. Maybe through Calli’s short life, she can help save lives as more and more people follow the practice of driving safe and paying attention to the road.

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2 thoughts on “Driving while distracted”

  1. Wow, what a moving article! I too see people all the time, regardless of the city they’re in or they type of road they are driving on, using their phones all the time. My children look for them as we are driving down the road. Ones 8 & my oldest is 10. You’d think that if they understand that the behavior is unsafe & illegal, that adults could wrap their minds around that concept as well. As I was driving them to school a couple of weeks ago, there was a girl in front of us (we were on the freeway) all over her narrow (due to construction zone) lane. She was too busy waving her cell phone put the window, to pay attention to the dozens of vehicles around her….even though we were in commute traffic! I was told by someone at my work that she probably couldn’t get a signal, I don’t have a cell phone yet (nope, never have owned one), so I couldn’t understand what the hell her issue was. There are so many stories about innocent people being killed because some distracted driver is on their phone, why are drivers still doing it? Is it really going to take you killing someone to take the priviliage of driving seriously? I guarentee you, the teen that hit Callie & her mom…..she is never going to get over that. How do you think you’ll handle it?

  2. The problem is not just cell phones…it is that people too easily forget that, despite their comfort and insulation, they are driving a very heavy vehicle at very high speeds and even not paying attention for a moment can spell catastrophe.
    Now, I’m not saying that cell phones AREN’T a distraction —they certainly are, and texting in particular is bad…but there are a ton of things that can distract a driver, hundreds of things that can cause inattention, from stuff like cell phones to dropping something on the floor and trying to retrieve it, to having a car full of amped-up friends making a lot of noise, to being intoxicated or even just overtired (and on the other end of the spectrum, I have seen people driving with tv monitors attached to their steering wheels and heard about people driving and reading). As I said, I’m not claiming that cell phones AREN’T a distraction, but we can’t put all distracted motorists in the ‘they must have had a cell phone’ category, or people will assume that, as long as they don’t have their cell in reach, nothing will interfere with their driving.

    When I was in high school, a couple of friends of mine were in a terrible accident that killed one of them and left the other with permanent severe handicaps. This was before everyone had cell phones. They weren’t drinking. They were not struck by another motorist. They were just a couple of teenage boys driving home and the inexperienced teen driver didn’t pay attention at just the wrong time. I, myself, have had near accidents due to many of the above mentioned distractions, including being over tired and having loud passengers.

    The problem isn’t cell phones…or rather, i suppose, isn’t JUST cell phones…it is remembering that we are controlling a vehicle that weighs thousands of pounds and that it only takes an instant for so much to go wrong, and that we should do our best to keep ALL distractions at a minimum while driving.

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