FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 9, 2018) - Our son was just a 23-year-old U.S. Marine when he died March 15, 2009, because he was texting while driving. My cellphone rang at 9:22 p.m. and I'll never forget that call.

He was barely 10 miles from our house when he went off the west side of the road and hit a culvert, which sent his truck flipping end-over-end. He had apparently been wearing his seat belt but had slipped it off. We don't know for sure, but perhaps his cellphone had fallen on the floor and he was trying to retrieve it. During the crash, he was ejected and landed 38 feet to the east side of the road before he stopped. His last texted words were, "Yeah T."

Only 24 hours before the accident, my husband had told our son to put his cellphone down, pointing out it was controlling his life. As it turned out, it did just that - it took his life. Now his little girl has to grow up without her daddy, our daughter without her brother and us without our son. Every night I go to his room, turn on the light, smell his jacket, touch his hats and tell him goodnight and that I love him. It has been nine years since that terrible evening, but the ache never leaves your heart -- not when it was your son.

So what is more important than paying attention while you're driving? What distraction is worth throwing away your life?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has defined three categories of distracted driving: visual (taking your eyes off the road), manual (taking your hands off the wheel) and cognitive (taking your mind off what you are doing). NHTSA defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person's attention from the primary task of driving. All distractions endanger driver, passenger and bystander safety. These types of distractions include:

• Texting

• Using a cellphone

• Eating and drinking

• Talking to passengers

• Grooming

• Reading, including maps

• Using a navigation system

• Watching a video

• Adjusting a radio

But, because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction. In recent years, a severe increase in motor vehicle accidents and fatalities was caused by texting while driving.

We've all been guilty of driving distracted at some point in our lives. Although you may have been fortunate to never have been liable for an accident or ticketed for driving distracted, it's time to take the issue seriously. According to NHTSA, texting drivers are 23 times more likely to have an accident than drivers paying proper attention behind the wheel. The dangers caused by distracted driving have led many states to enact new laws to protect motorists, including:

• 15 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using handheld cellphones while driving. While no state bans all cellphone use for all drivers, 38 states and D.C. ban all cellphone use by novice or teen drivers, and 21 states and D.C. prohibit any cellphone use for school bus drivers.

• 47 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers. Missouri prohibits texting by novice or teen drivers.

The push for stricter anti-distracted driving laws is a key topic for parents, lobbying groups, physicians and even companies that produce cellphones. That's not too difficult to understand when you consider the statistics on this problem. For example, distracted driving was a reported factor in 16 percent of all fatal and 20 percent of all injury collisions. Drivers using handheld devices were four times more likely to get into injury crashes.

Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver's eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds. At 55 mph, that distance is equivalent to a football field. Also, headset cellphone use is not substantially safer than handheld devices. Simply put, distracted is distracted. In fact, a study by Carnegie Mellon University found driving while using a cellphone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent.

Still, there is more than statistics involved. For our family and others who have lost a loved one to a distracted driving accident, the reality of the cost is much more personal. I can't bring back my son, but maybe, if you read this story and take the message seriously, you won't have to bury someone you love. In the deadly moment it takes to text, a whole lifetime of love and opportunities can be lost. No text message is worth that.

Did You Know?

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The National Safety Council encourages motorists to put safety first and just drive. For more information, visit the NSC's website at http://www.nsc.org/learn/NSC-Initiatives/Pages/distracted-driving-awareness-month.aspx.

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