I'll be the first to tell you that I've been guilty of texting while driving.
I'll be the first to tell you that I've been guilty of texting while driving. And while I've never wound up in an accident, I've certainly been distracted enough to know how dangerous such a momentary diversion of my attention can be. And it's not just me. It's almost a daily event that I see someone driving and texting – thinking to myself – "they better be careful!" Wow – am I still a hypocrite?
On Sept. 12, 2012, while driving to lunch, I saw a car off in the ditch and overturned. It was just after noon out by Crowder. The car was heading west. I figured a college student was texting and ran off the road. Traffic was backed up a bit. I texted my wife to let her know I may be a couple of minutes late. And while I observed an extraordinary number of emergency vehicles, I didn't really think it looked that bad. Sadly, I was wrong.
I learned the next day that the 18 year-old female driving was killed in that accident. And while we'll never know for sure, the press release included the following comment: "The investigation concluded that text messages had been sent and received....moments before the accident." Seeing those words sent shivers down my spine and will forever change how I view texting and driving.
I've made a commitment to bring this up every year to remind everyone — myself included — about the dangers of texting and driving. And last month, the Neosho City Council once again issued a proclamation that designated Sept. 19, 2013 as "Drive 4 Pledges Day" – part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" public awareness campaign that is focused on a simple but powerful message: No text is worth dying for. Here are some stats and comments that were included in our latest proclamation:
• 98 percent of American commuters know sending a text or email while driving is not safe;
• Nearly 50 percent of commuters text while behind the wheel;
• More than 40 percent of commuters who text while driving reported their activity as being a habit;
• A driver that sends a text message while driving not only jeopardizes his or her safety, but also the safety of passengers, pedestrians, and other drivers.
Sometimes it takes an event such as that tragic death last year to drive home a message. And while I don't believe I knew or ever met the victim of this tragic accident, her name and what happened will stick with me for the rest of my life. And the reality is it could have been any of us — with a few seconds of distraction changing the course of our lives forever.
Last year, after the council issued a proclamation supporting the initiative, I told my daughter that if she ever sees me (or anyone else) texting while driving to call them out! No message is so important that it's worth putting yourself or others at risk. I'm happy to say that having her in the back seat watching me, along with the memories of the accident, has made me more aware and more cautious.
I encourage you to visit the website: www.ItCanWait.com. From there, you can also visit their Facebook page. It's a sobering message that we all need to remember. For those that don't know texting lingo, the title to this article is text shorthand for "No Text Back Needed." Stay safe…and think twice about what could happen the next time you have the urge to text while driving. Worst case — pull over. Remember – It Can Wait!
Until next time: stay the course, keep the faith, and may God bless Neosho.
Richard Davidson is mayor of Neosho.