Distracted driving kills; it happened to us | Guest Column

The late Suzan Fincher with her grandsons, Luke, left, and Zach, right.   - Contributed photo
The late Suzan Fincher with her grandsons, Luke, left, and Zach, right.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Brad Fincher

Did you know that 25 percent of the drivers in the United States report that they regularly talk on their cell phones while driving (www.distraction.gov and www.cdc.gov)?

Did you know that the younger you are that percentage raises dramatically to 40 percent in the age group 18-29 year olds?

We should all know by now this is dangerous and illegal. But, it gets worse.

Did you know that 9 percent of the drivers in the United States report texting or emailing regularly using their cell phones while driving? Staggeringly, 52 percent of the 18-29-year-olds reported texting while driving in the last 30 days.

Texting takes your eyes off the road for almost five seconds. At 55 mph, that is like driving the length of a football field blindfolded.

To put it into Friday Harbor terms, it is like driving 20 mph on Spring Street the length of King’s Market, then through the intersection past Friday Harbor Drug Store, with pedestrians in the cross-walk, bicyclists pedaling up the hill, and cars parked in 2-hour parking spaces, all while blindfolded.

I have one more statistic. Each day 15 people are killed in crashes that are caused by distracted drivers. To me, it is more than a statistic, because on Dec. 27, 2011, my mom was one of those 15 people.

On that day, in east Texas, a man was traveling on a two lane highway driving his three-quarter-ton pickup truck at a rate of 70 m.p.h. (which was the speed limit) and received a text, which he chose to read (determined by cell phone records and a Texas highway patrol investigation).

He did not see the car in front of him at a complete stop apparently waiting to cross over traffic to get to a road-side park.

His truck rear-ended the stopped car (at 70 mph with no skid marks that would indicate breaking) killing him instantly as well as the driver of the rear-ended car. The wreck caused the car to be shoved into on- coming traffic where it “t-boned” another car killing the passenger and severely injuring the driver of that third car.

My mom, Suzan Fincher, was the passenger in the third car, traveling with her friend to a funeral. It was two days after Christmas, and at least we got to talk on the phone Christmas day and said “I love you” before we hung up.

She died that day because someone was using their cell phone while driving. It was negligent, it was preventable, and it was not an accident.

Every day on San Juan Island I see people using their cell phones while driving. My friend, Joe Caputo, recently wrote a letter to the editor with his observations of these egregious violations. Because of my experience, I take it personally that these people violate the law endangering my family and community.

If you go to the San Juan County Fair, please stop by the San Juan Island Prevention Coalition booth. We are partnering with Right of Way Driving School to educate our community on the dangers of distracted driving and encourage drivers to put down their cell phones while driving.

After all, it is the law, and you could be preventing a tragedy and saving lives.

— Editor's note: Brad Fincher is the chair of San Juan Island Prevention Coalition. All the statistics were from the two websites cited and by surveys conducted by the National Highway Safety Traffic Commission.



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