Victims speak out about the dangers of distracted driving

Aug 13, 2013

Leslee Henson was out for a stroll with her husband in St. George when they were hit by a distracted driver, seriously injuring her and killing her husband on impact.

Henson said, “On March 4, my husband, David Henson and I started out on a walk and as we were walking along Dixie Drive, we were involved in an auto-pedestrian accident. There was a driver that was texting. She was driving distracted, over the speed limit, and she ran into a car which pushed that car into us. My husband, David, was killed on impact and I sustained several injuries. I have a fracture in my neck and 2 in my back and I had trauma to my head. I received over 5,000 stitches and staples in my skull. I had separated nerves in my eyes and I had the greatest professionals help put me back together.”

They were the victims of a preventable distracted driving accident.

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of almost-crashes were found to have origins in distracted driving. And in some states, distracted driving has killed more people than drunk driving this year.

Stacey Johnson from Utah’s Chapter of Zero Fatalities said someone on their cell phone is as dangerous as a drunk driver. 

"You are incredibly dangerous even on your cell phone. But if you are texting while driving, you are as dangerous as someone who is double the legal alcohol limit and studies show, at least six times more likely to be in a crash.  With distracted driving, we tend to think it is just a cell phone or texting while driving that’s the biggest distraction, when in fact, it is not. Reaching for something in the car can be deadly. People in the car, friends in the car can be a distraction. Anything that takes our focus of driving is a distraction,” Johnson said.

Tampering with cell phones is a big crash culprit, causing 1.6 million crashes each year, but it is far from the only tantalizing diversion.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), there are many other principal actions that cause distracted driving and lead to vehicle crashes. Some of which are: reaching for a moving object inside the vehicle, looking at an object or event outside of the vehicle, eating, or even applying makeup.

A study from an insurance agency in the United Kingdom shows that nearly half a million road accidents each year are caused by women drivers applying make-up behind the wheel.

Many drivers believe that multitasking behind the wheel is not a problem, but studies show otherwise.

“Driving takes 100% of your focus and that’s where it should be. Your brain is focused on one thing and driving should never be secondary.”

One study has shown that driving performance is lowered and the level of distraction is high for drivers who are heavily engaged in cell phone conversations. The use of a hands-free device was found not to lower distraction levels significantly for drivers, showing the importance of keeping your mind on the road as well as your hands on the wheel. 

Just like many people are distracted by different things on the road, distracted driving also knows no age limit.

While teens are more at-risk for texting while driving, with a quarter of teens responding to a text message once or more every time they drive, 31% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported that they had read or sent text messages or email messages while driving, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A national study also shows a significant correlation between parents who text and drive having teenagers who also text and drive.

Stacey Johnson said, “We all as drivers and passengers have a responsibility behind that wheel because most of these crashes never have to happen. In most cases these people should still be alive today. The one thing we can do to protect ourselves- even if we are the best driver in the world, the person next to us might not be- the best thing we can do, the only thing we can do is buckle up.”

The first “Distracted Driving Road” sign in St. George was revealed in July, in an effort to bring attention to distracted driving. It was placed where Leslee and David Henson were struck earlier this year.

So when you see the new signs, or buckle up remember, keep your eyes and mind on the road, hands on the wheel, and help prevent tragedies.

Taylor Halversen is a senior at Utah State University, majoring in Communication Studies and Liberal Arts. She's from Sandy, Utah and is interested in discovering new and random things to try and attempting to live life wholly and healthily. She loves music and climbing anything from trees to mountains.