The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

October 31, 2012

National advocate against distracted driving brings message to Diamond

Jennifer Smith’s connection to issue is personal

DIAMOND, Mo. — Jennifer Smith told Diamond High School and middle school students that messages about distracted driving are wrongly directed mostly at them.

“All I ever hear is about texting and about teens,” Smith said. “We didn’t set good examples for you. But we know you can change it.”

Smith is a national advocate against distracted driving, by drivers of all ages, whether it’s texting or receiving or making calls on mobile phones, even on hands-free devices. She spoke to the students earlier this week in a program sponsored by Con-Way Truckload.

Smith’s mother, 61-year-old Linda Doyle, died on Sept. 3, 2008. Doyle was the victim in a traffic crash in which a 20-year-old driver on his cell phone ran through a red light and t-boned her car, striking it in the driver’s side.

“He was on his phone for less than a minute,” Smith said of the driver.

Smith said before her mother’s death, working as a real estate agent, she was on her phone constantly, incorrectly thinking she was safe because she was using a hands-free device.

Smith said hundreds of studies of phone use while driving have been conducted. Among the findings: There is no safety benefit for using a hands-free device; drivers using phones have a compared impairment to having a .08 blood-alcohol level; and a texting driver is eight times more likely to get in a crash than a driver  who’s not using a phone.

“We never call these accidents,” Smith said. “They are crashes. They could have been prevented.”

State laws

Missouri law bans drivers age 21 and younger from texting. Bills introduced to remove the age limit have been unsuccessful.

A 16-year-old Platte City girl was sentenced in May to two days in jail, 72 days of house arrest, five years probation and 300 hours of community service, according to the Associated Press. She had pleaded guilty to second-degree involuntary manslaughter in the September, 2011 death of a 72-year-old woman. The girl was texting when the crash happened.

In 2010, the Missouri State Highway Patrol listed “inattention” as a contributing circumstance in 203 traffic deaths and 15,573 traffic injuries around the state.

Kansas bans all cell phone use for drivers with a learner’s permit or intermediate license and it bans texting for all drivers.

Oklahoma law bans handheld phones and texting for drivers with a learner’s permit or intermediate license and all mobile phone use for bus drivers.

Smith said that it’s estimated that nearly 6,000 people a year die in traffic crashes related to mobile phone usage.

“We are the problem,” Smith said.

Smith said any mobile phone use distracts a driver from driving.

“It’s  a condition called inattentional blindness, where you look, but you don’t see,” Smith said. “You don’t even know that you’re not seeing things. Your brain can’t do it all.”

Smith showed emotional video clips about people who have died in crashes involving drivers using phones. They included 13-year-old Margay Schee, who died in a school bus crash and fire in 2008.

“What can you do?” Smith asked the students. “Get off the phone. Lead by example.”

She also told students to share the information with their parents, and apply pressure.

“Do the little guilt trip thing, because it works,” she said.

She said if you call someone while they’re driving, ask them to call back after they’ve stopped.

The students paid close attention to the presentation and two who were interviewed said they would change their behavior because of it.

“It’s kind of mind-blowing that so many people die,” said Justin Tandy, a 17-year-old senior.

“I will never text and drive,” said Shelby Struewing, also 17 and a senior. “It scares me. It really does.”

Asked about using her cell phone otherwise, she said she also wouldn’t do that while driving.

“That will never happen,” she said.


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