For the first time in nearly a decade, data from the National Safety Council estimates that as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes last year. That’s a 6% increase over 2015 and a 14% increase over 2014 – the most dramatic two-year escalation in 53 years. Cell phone usage is the main cause.
“My name is Jacy and I want to start this story when I was in your shoes, when I was in high school … "
That’s Jacy Good, telling the senior class of New Hanover High School her story. You could hear a pin drop.
It was a spring day in rural Pennsylvania in 2008. Jacy was with her parents at a gas station on her way home from her college graduation. They were an hour from the house in Lancaster.
“We stopped there that afternoon, and there is nothing exciting about that. But I share that part of the story with you because stopping at that gas station is the very last that I remember, for the next two months.”
Leaving the gas station, the car carrying Jacy and her parents was hit by a tractor trailer as both entered an intersection with green lights. The truck had swerved to try to avoid a driver coming from the intersecting road who attempted to turn left through a red light. That young man was talking on his phone at the time.
Jacy’s parents were killed instantly. The college graduate broke bones from head to toe, and suffered traumatic head trauma. She was given a 10% chance to survive the night.
But she did survive, and with her then-boyfriend and now husband Steve, she tells her story to students with the hope they don’t go through the same thing.
Rob Morgan is the principal of New Hanover High School.
"I think it’s increasingly more important simply because of the fact, as they talked about in their story, we are more and more attached to our phone, we are more attached to multitasking."
An attachment that comes with a price.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distraction is now believed to be responsible for more than 50% of serious teen crashes. In 2015, distraction-related crashes increased more than drunk, drugged or drowsy driving crashes.
Doug Darrell, the founder of Streetsafe and sponsor of Good’s recent talk at New Hanover High, says the numbers are alarming.
“It’s so important because distracted driving has become the major cause of crashes. All the studies are starting to show that its worse than impaired driving - it’s the most frequent cause of crashes now.”
There are laws on the books in many states that make driving and talking or texting a crime. There is no prohibition on cell phone use while driving in North Carolina. However, all North Carolina drivers are prohibited from texting.
Ben David, district attorney of New Hanover and Pender Counties, believes that parents can play a role in what he calls an epidemic.
“As a dad myself, I have really had to check myself, I know the temptation: you’re at the stoplight, you’re at the stop sign, you think there is no harm in checking when the car isn’t moving, your kids are watching. They’re going to model that behavior later.”
Again, Jacy Good.
“Distracted driving has been around since the day they invented windshield wipers, they considered that distracted driving. But it’s come to such a whole new level with these computers that we can keep in our pockets, and we all feel like we need to be on them all the time. It’s absolutely an epidemic.”
Good says 15 people a day die in the U.S., from accidents caused by distracted driving.
“When something bad happens," Good says, "the ripples that come out of that and how many people are impacted, and the idea that my mom was killed on a Sunday and the next day was Monday and my mom the beloved 8th grade English teacher and she had 300 students coming to school, to find that the teacher that was always smiling, who everyone loves, is no more.”
Because of a cell phone.
“So it’s the idea of this negative ripple effect when 15 people are killed every day because we can’t get off our phones when we’re on the road.”