By Paul Atchley
After the Texas Distracted Driving Conference last week, I was so moved by the victim impact stories that I had to share one of them with my class. What started as a short lesson ended up as a strongly worded call to stop this dangerous behavior. The following e-mail from a student tells me the message got through, inspiring hope that we can cure this deadly compulsion. I’d like to thank her for graciously allowing me to share her letter here.
Hey Prof. Atchley,
Just wanted to say I deeply appreciated your unyielding candor at the beginning of class yesterday, when discussing the distracted driving summit. It struck a chord with me, and I wanted you to know that.
I know three individuals, all teenagers, who have died in two separate distracted-driving car accidents. Two boys I knew in high school, aged 15 and 16, best friends, died together in a single-car accident on a dirt road -- it was strongly suggested that the driver was likely texting... and the text message in question simply told the driver's girlfriend that they were on their way to her house. They were in my younger brother's grade. They'd be 21 now, probably getting ready to wrap up the semester, looking forward to summer vacation. But they never even made it to their high school graduation.
Not even a year after that incident, at the very beginning of my senior year of high school, a girl in MY grade -- a girl I had gone to school with K thru 12 -- was a passenger in another single-car distracted driving accident. She was killed. The driver, her boyfriend, survived. I imagine I do not have to describe to you the utter grief, guilt and horror that plagued this boy. No one could bring themselves to be angry with him, but he just never seemed the same.
The worst part of all this is... despite everything I've seen, I've done more than my fair share of texting and driving. Yes, even after all three deaths. Really, it shames me to an extent I could not possibly describe to you right now.
As the class, in a complete quiet, listened to you speak, the images of these three kids kept popping into my head... and although I tried to hide it, a parade of silent tears made their way down my cheeks. Really, I thought to myself (slowly, with gravity and anger I'd never held in this context before), why would I ever keep doing this? Convenience? Seriously...?! I became suddenly aware of the number of times I'd spit on their graves by continuing in my irresponsible actions.
At my apartment last night, I told my boyfriend all my thoughts on the matter, and we had a long conversation about it. Although he isn't from my hometown and didn't know my classmates, I think the distress in my eyes and the newly confronted reality of the situation had a deep impact on him. We agreed to a pact: to help each other never, ever, ever use phones while driving again. No texting/calling when we know the other person is driving; offer to make important texts/calls for the driver when we're in the same car; leave phones in the backseat/trunk... etc. It helped so much that he made the pact with me. I can't even explain exactly why, but it gave me a huge sense of security and even relief. It's such a simple thing to promise... but I have a feeling it will be one of the most important ones I make for a while.
These are the images that flashed so brightly in my head during lecture yesterday, the wonderful young people whose deaths won't be in vain.