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Crashes

Kelsey Raffaele was 17 when she died. Her last words were, “I’m going to crash.”

While she was talking to a friend on her cell phone, she hit a snow bank, skidded into oncoming traffic and was T-boned by an SUV.

In a previous post I called “Shut Up and Drive,” I did some preaching on distracted driving. There’s a new study out that indicates the problem is worse — maybe much worse — than we think.

Crash data is collected by local police agencies and sent up the line to state governments and Washington. Agencies in some states do a much more thorough job than others.

Tennessee reported 71 fatal crashes involving cell phones in 2010 and 93 in 2011. New York’s population is more than triple that of Tennessee, but New York reported only 10 fatal cell phone crashes in 2010 and just one in 2011. That can’t be right.

In Kelsey’s case, police attributed her crash to mistakes made by an inexperienced driver. It was only later when they found her cell phone that they discovered she’d been talking on it when she crashed. But her death isn’t included cell phone statistics.

Crashes are the leading cause of death for teens. Boys are twice as likely to die in a crash as girls. And, because we were all teenagers once, we know teens are drawn to risky behavior. (“Time” magazine ran an excellent article on teens and risky behavior last year.)

I crashed my parents’ car twice in 6 months as a novice driver. The first time, I was just being stupid, showing off for the friend who was with me, using the handbrake to do donuts in the snow. I hit a parked car.

The second time I was distracted by the friend sitting next to me, as he studied the speeding ticket I had just gotten. It was raining, and I looked up from the ticket too late to see that the car in front of me was slowing down to turn. I slid into him.

Both my kids made it safely into adulthood. But if I had a young one now just learning to drive, I would take away their cell phone, pay a mechanic to disable the radio (sorry boss), forbid passengers, and install every tattle-tale monitoring device I could find on the car they drove. I’d also set an example and never talk or text while driving.

My kids are old enough now so there’s nothing more I can teach them. (They’re teaching me.) But I still won’t drive and talk because I don’t want to cut short the joy and satisfaction I get from my kids, now that they’re grown. And I don’t want to be responsible for cutting yours short.