Every year at the Puyallup Fair is the same for my family. After we finish eating scones, watching jugglers, and nodding off at the hypnotist show, my wife drags us to the State Patrol exhibit at the Puyallup Fair where the display is always the same – the twisted wreckage of a severe car crash.
Along with the car, the exhibit includes a poster board printed with the driver’s biography (or epitaph) and some background on the crash. The visual draws in quiet onlookers who gain a healthier respect for the laws of physics. The story provides them with a few simple lessons: don’t speed; don’t drive when you’re tired; and don’t drink and drive.
This exhibit is no fun at all, but my wife is clearly trying to make a lasting impression on our sons, both of whom drive. For myself, I usually wander around taking in the sights. Unlike most people, I have rolled up on many horrific collisions as a patrol officer.
This year, however, I did stop and take a look. I almost wished I hadn’t.
The car was a small black sedan, so crumpled I could not identify the model. The point of impact was the driver’s door, which had literally imploded. It did not look survivable.
I scanned the sign board for details of the crash, and read that the driver of the wrecked car was a young woman in her 20’s. She was not speeding, she was not sleeping and she was not drunk – she was texting when her car crossed the center line and struck an oncoming truck.
She died, like more and more people these days, with a cell phone in her hand behind the wheel of a car.
One can only imagine the despair that ripped through this family following the fatal collision. Reconciling such a tragic loss to something as meaningless as texting would only make it more difficult. Yet her parents, who poured out their grief and love for their wonderful, caring daughter onto the sign, were also brutally honest about their daughter’s mistake in picking up her phone while she was driving.
The purpose of all this – the useless hulk of metal, the sign filled with pictures, stories and details of a young woman’s last day in this life – is obvious and vital. It could change someone’s mind about texting behind the wheel, and it could save a life. Might as well start with me.
Seriously. I am ashamed to admit it, but texting while driving is my dirty little secret. I won’t try and justify my actions (sometimes I do in my own head) because there is no excuse. That is especially true for the father of two teenagers armed with two cell phones, one driver’s license and one driver’s permit.
I also know I’m not the only adult driver abusing a cell phone. Despite the new state law prohibiting such use, it seems like more people are talking or texting on the phone these days. They roll over center lines and fog lines, throw on the brakes in surprise, and generally drive like they are not paying attention – which of course they are not.
We would all like to think that when we make a call or text behind the wheel that we are still in perfect control. Who are we kidding?All the statistics and anecdotal evidence, the smashed cars and shattered lives all lead us to one inescapable conclusion. If you will pardon the hypocrisy, we all need to put down the phone and just drive.
Do it for your family. Do it for yourself. And do it so the death of a young woman will not have been in vain.