Almost 8 years ago Ben and I were out in Washington State for 4 months for his job. We had our 3 boys at the time and I was expecting boy #4. I still remember where I was sitting when I received an email from a family member informing me that a girl who I had grown up with was killed in a car accident in my home state. She was on her cell phone with a client and when she bent down to pick it up she lost control of her car and crashed. I had not had the opportunity to know Heather as an adult. I still remembered her as the little girl who lived across the street and who I would see in the summers swimming in the lake and playing on the beach because our families' camps were next to each other. I remember feeling so sad that her sweet life was cut so short and I remember the heartache I felt for her parents and brother, who I knew had to be devastated. Since her death her mother has worked tirelessly to raise awareness for distracted driving. While the awareness that has been created because of Heather's accident is good, it could never replace having Heather here, which of course is what anyone would prefer. Because of Heather's story and because of her mother, Judy, I have learned to never have my phone out when I am driving. I shared with Judy once that every time I hear my phone ring or the ding of a text coming in I always, always think of Heather and pray for her family. In order to be sure that the curiosity of who is trying to get a hold of me doesn't get the better of me I keep my cell phone in a small, zippered pouch inside my purse. This way there is no way I can easily fish it out. If I want to see who is calling that badly I force myself to pull over and stop the vehicle before even looking at my phone. I don't just do this for the safety of me and my children, I do it for the safety of those around me. I wholeheartedly repeat Judy's message, "Please put your cell phones away while driving"!
We all know that there are so many other ways we can be distracted behind the wheel. Before cell phones we'd often hear of someone loosing control of their car because they were fiddling with the radio station buttons. There will always be something there to distract us while driving, which is why we have to train ourselves to be vigilant drivers. One of the main distractions I have is the kids. It's a rare day I am driving and don't have the kids with me and I can't tell you how many times they ask me to look at something they are doing while I'm driving. It takes kids awhile to grasp the concept that when a parent is driving they can't be catering to their needs! A simple thing like training your children to amuse themselves in the car, and not need you to meet a million needs while you are driving is helpful. I am always saying to my kids, "guys, mom is driving and I can't help you right now. You need to wait patiently until I park the car." If your child absolutely needs your help right away then pull over. Those extra minutes added onto your trip because you have to pull over could not only save you and your children's lives but those of the drivers around you.
I often wonder what is going through the minds of people who allow themselves to be distracted while they are driving whether it is because they are on their cell phones or because a woman is putting her make-up on (believe it or not there are enough accidents caused by this that it's a statistic!). Does it ever cross their minds that they could seriously hurt themselves or someone else? I realize we all wish we had a few extra hours in the day and we feel the need to multi-task but multi-tasking behind the wheel comes with risks so high I wonder why anyone takes them. I could not live with myself if I caused harm to someone or their loved one because I made a choice to be distracted rather than mindful when I was behind the wheel. We hear so much about teenagers getting into accidents because they were driving carelessly and we wonder why? If the adults aren't even setting the right example before them how can we expect them to perform any better? I can only be responsible for myself and I know that it is important to me that my children see me driving as carefully as I can, eliminating all the distractions that are within my control because this is the kind of drivers I want them to be.
So in light of April being Distracted Driving month, please help raise awareness and help save lives. If you are on the phone with someone and you know they are driving while they are talking to you, hang up with them and tell them to call you when they are no longer behind the wheel or pulled over and parked. One thing Heather's mom always says is how thankful she is it wasn't her Heather was speaking to on the phone when she crashed. Judy and her husband Rick, long before Heather's accident had taught their children to not be on their phones while driving and would refuse to talk to them if they knew they were driving. Teach your teens that if they are in the car with someone who is driving distracted to ask them to stop whatever it is they are doing because they don't feel safe. If the friend refuses tell your kids to get out of that vehicle and call you or someone they trust for a ride. I don't know about you but I'd rather be sore with aching legs from walking 5 miles than end up dead. Think I'm exaggerating or overreacting? Watch a few distracted driving videos on YouTube....but not on your phone....while driving! I keep my "Maine Remembers Heather" magnet on my fridge to be reminded of what can happen if we don't drive carefully. It has also opened up dialogue with our children about who Heather was, why Maine remembers her and how important it is to drive responsibly.
****April 2nd is also Autism Awareness Day. Light it up blue for Autism. Heather Dawn was on the phone with a client's mother when she had her accident. Her client was Liam and he had Autism. Because of this Judy has created the The Heather and Liam Connection to help raise awareness and help for Autism. Take a minute to click on the link and see all the work they are doing and if you feel so led, make a donation!***