Hang up: Avoid distracted driving

Photo by Jordan W. Patterson Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson introduced guest speakers Jacy Good and Steve Johnson, national distracted driving speakers, to address various school districts in Chautauqua County regarding the dangers of operating a cellphone while driving. Good and Johnson will be addressing more districts today at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts.

JAMESTOWN — “We’re killing the ones we love because we’re selfish — honestly.”

Those were the words of Jacy Good, a survivor of a distracted driving accident in 2008 that killed both her parents and rendered her left arm and leg paralyzed.

“I’m so lucky to have walked in here to share this story,” she said.

Accompanied by Steve Johnson, Good’s husband and boyfriend at the time of the accident, the duo addressed hundreds of juniors and seniors from numerous school districts in Chautauqua County at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts regarding the dangers of distracted driving. More school districts will attend the same presentation today.

The school districts who witness the “Hang Up And Drive” presentation include Brocton, Cassadaga Valley, Chautauqua Lake and Ripley, Clymer, Dunkirk, Falconer, Forestville, Fredonia, Frewsburg, Jamestown, Maple Grove, Panama, Pine Valley, Sherman, Silver Creek, Southwestern and Westfield. The event was organized by District Attorney Patrick Swanson who introduced Good and Johnson. Joe Gerace also addressed the audience.

“What we’re seeing is your age groups’ injury and death rates on the increase because of distracted driving,” Gerace said to the students in the audience. “What you hear today, you need take away not for just today, but tomorrow and make a new habit in how you deal with distracted driving especially with that cellphone in your hand.”

Good and Johnson have spoken at 908 events in 33 states since 2011 informing communities about distracted driving and telling Good’s story. The overall goal is to change state laws to ban cellphone use while driving. Good has been a guest at a United Nations conference, on The Oprah Winfrey Show, featured in People Magazine and on NPR and spoken to numerous other organizations.

Their presentation doesn’t deal with drunken driving or texting while driving, but rather focuses on the all encompassing distracted driving category, which includes talking on the phone using the hands-free feature. The duo cited a 30-percent decrease of focus and vision while driving when speaking on the phone even in the various hands-free modes. They also said 15 people lose their lives every day to distracted driving accidents, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Good emphasized that many accidents caused by distracted driving related to cellphone use goes unreported.

The accident that left Good partially paralyzed was the result of an 18-year-old driver turning left at a red light into oncoming traffic while talking on the phone using the speaker-phone feature. The 18 year old was stopped at a intersecting traffic light that was perpendicular to the cross traffic that, at the time, had the green light. The driver, while on the phone, turned left prematurely.

At the same time on the main road, a semi-truck was heading in one direction while, simultaneously, the Good family was traveling in a car in the opposite direction of the semi-truck. The semi-truck swerved to avoid the 18-year-old’s car that had obstructed the lane and subsequently collided head on with the Good family in an effort to avoid an accident. The crash took place on the drive home after Good and Johnson’s graduation ceremony at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa.

“A phone was more important than a life,” Good said about her crash and hundreds of other related accidents.

The duo tells the story from both their perspectives. Johnson was home in New York City when he received the call from the hospital. Good only remembers stopping at a gas station before the crash and waking up in a rehabilitation center days later. While overcoming the mere 10-percent chance of survival the doctors gave Good in the first day after more than eight hours of surgery, Good is unable to move her left leg and left arm due to her traumatic brain injury. The crash left Good and her brother without parents. Following Good’s surgery, Johnson and her brother were at her side.

Good and Johnson encouraged the students sitting before them to not use their phone, or turn their phones off or turn on “do not disturb” mode while driving. Johnson explained that the students might not know they saved a life by not using their phone, but emphasized they would definitely know and never forget when their cellphone use causes a death.

“Life is normal one second and the next it’s not,” Johnson said on how fast life can change after a car collision.

During the presentation, the two played a video sponsored by AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign that has more than 250 million views across social media. The video features young drivers admitting on camera they use their phone while driving in varied capacity from driver to driver. The admissions are slightly lightheated and some of them are even observed laughing.

Then enters Good and the mood of the video abruptly shifts. In the video, Good retells her story to the shocked drivers. Many of the drivers begin to cry and promise to never use their phone while driving again.

Inside the Reg Lenna, Good emphasized how the young drivers’ opinion of using their phone while driving shifted after she walked into the room and looked them in the eyes. She said she wanted to do the same with those in attendance Tuesday.

“I want to look you in the eyes,” she said to the students.

She detailed different ways to avoid using a cellphone while driving – each method involved better preparation before departing in a vehicle. She also suggested students should download the Lifesaver app that notifies people when an individual is driving eliminating the need to call or text back manually.

“The No. 1 cause of death from people your age sitting in this room is car accidents – nothing else,” Swanson said.

Prior to the main presentation, Swanson addressed the audience and reiterated the dangers of using a cellphone while driving. He said there in an increase in traffic infractions in the county related to cellphone use. He emphasized the dangers of talking on the phone while driving.

Swanson described himself as being in “auto pilot” during a drive back from Syracuse where he just barely avoided accidents on eight different occasions while on the phone via the car’s hands-free feature. He noted the campaigns against talking and driving don’t exist for no reason and emphasized that there is a real problem.

“Most of you are able to drive and there is a responsibility that comes with that,” he said.