For the rest of my life, I will remember a woman I do not know, a calendar date that used to be insignificant and medical terminology I never thought would be relevant to me. The distracted driver who crashed into me going full speed while I sat at a red light on Nov. 3, 2015, will probably not remember any of it. Her only aftermath was the traffic citation she has already paid.
My resulting severe neck injury is a daily reminder of something that never had to happen. It has been a year-and-a-half of doctor’s appointments, medical tests and physical therapy. It is a life sentence of asking for help to lift even a small bag into the overhead bin of an airplane, planning extra time for stops on long drives to stretch and pre-planning my body position when lifting my dog, a baby or a bag of groceries.
I have not fully accepted that my physically active outdoor lifestyle will never be 100 percent again. That is a tough reality to swallow for a published outdoor writer and photographer who makes a living white-water rafting, hiking, rock climbing and fishing.
I will never know if that crash had any impact on the at-fault driver’s behavior behind the wheel. To this day, she does not know the full extent of my injuries. Her only words to me were in the ambulance while I lay on a stretcher in a neck immobilizer: “How much do you think this is going to cost?”
Worthington resident Luanne Clevenger can relate. Her life changed April 14, 2016, when a distracted driver crossed two lanes of traffic hitting her head on.
“My right hand was crushed. I had eight pins put into in my hand and wrist and went through months of surgery and therapy,” said Clevenger.
Clevenger remembers the moments just before the crash when she saw the other driver looking down and veering toward her. She had nowhere to go.
“I thought, ‘this guy doesn’t even see me,’” said Clevenger.
Her car was totaled and some of her injuries are likely permanent. Performing basic tasks at work that require the everyday use of her hands are frustrating endeavors. The driver who hit Clevenger was cited, but she lives with the constant reminder of a crash that was completely avoidable.
“It doesn’t have to happen. Every time I see someone doing this I think ‘do you even know how this could change your life forever,’” said Clevenger.
According to AAA, most drivers admit they know the dangers of distracted driving; they just do not act on it.
“What we continue to find is the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do mentality. People know these things are dangerous but they do them anyway,” said Kimberly Schwind, senior public relations manager for AAA Ohio Auto Club.
AAA Foundation Study
The 2015 Safety Culture Index—AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety Study shows 80.6 percent of drivers between the ages of 35 and 55 say it is completely unacceptable to text or email behind the wheel, yet 77 percent of them said they talk on the phone while driving and 42.3 percent said they have read a text or email while driving in the past 30 days.
According to the Ohio Department of Public Safety, the distractions causing crashes are not just phones—they are also navigation systems, the radio, passengers and distractions outside the car.
In 2015, there were a staggering 7,280 distracted driving crashes involving 16- to 25-year-olds on Ohio highways. That age group has the highest numbers of distracted driving crashes above all other age groups according to the report.
The victims of distracted driving crashes are reminded of the real-life consequences every day, but the drivers who cause them should know that there are consequences for them, too.
“A person would not lose insurance coverage for being at fault. However, they may no longer be eligible for coverage with their current carrier based upon the number of incidents and violations that are recorded on their motor vehicle reports within the past five years,” said Dave McMullen, vice president of Insurance for AAA Ohio Auto Club.
An at-fault driver could also be financially responsible for a victim’s pain and suffering and property damages, as well as citations for causing the crash and damage to their own vehicle.
As a crash victim, you presume, and hope, that the drivers who cause these crashes get some kind of wake-up call, but you just never know. The truth is, by the time insurance companies and lawyers get involved, the at-fault drivers never really know the full extent of the damage they have caused someone else.
It only takes two seconds of looking away from the road to double your chances for a crash, according to AAA. Driving distracted, or not, is a choice.
“We recommend putting your phone out of reach because that decision to be distracted by your phone or not will take place while you are in the car,” said Schwind. “You have to make a conscious decision about it. Put it in your purse in the back seat or put it in the trunk. Put it somewhere where you will not be distracted by it.”
Anietra Hamper is a freelance writer from Columbus, Ohio.