Kelly Bell/ETR

  Stacey Riddle knows the bottomless despair of every parent’s nightmare. En route home from spring break last year her daughters nineteen-year-old Brianna Robinson and seventeen-year-old Jade Robinson were killed when the driver of the car they were riding in took her eyes off the road to check her text messages, veered into the wrong lane and hit an 18-wheeler head-on.

            “I keep waiting for Brianna and Jade to walk through the front door, but I know they never will again,” Riddle said. “People are constantly on their cell phones. They don’t consider that using their phones while driving can have tragic consequences and forever change their lives, the lives of their loved ones and the lives of people they don’t even know.”

            With the summer season upon us, the highways will be packed with vacationers, and the Texas Department of Transportation is encouraging motorists to stay off their phones and watch the road. With a full one in five of all Texas crashes associated with distracted driving the TxDOT is aggressively pursuing its “Talk, Text, Crash” campaign. TxDOT Executive Director James Bass emphasizes the sobering implications of distracted driving.

            “Last year 455 people were killed and more than 3000 were seriously injured in crashes due to driver distractions,” he said. “These crashes are highest among young drivers, and we’re grateful to parents like Stacey Riddle who are willing to share their stories in the hope of sparing other families the grief they’ve endured. We ask all drivers to always keep their eyes and attention on the road, and avoid distractions of any kind.”

            Safety experts caution drivers against using cell phones, texting, message checking and all smartphone functions. In 2016 a horrific 109,658 crashes were associated with distracted driving. This was 3% higher than 2015.  Stats indicate just holding a cell phone, using a Bluetooth or any other hands-free device is dangerous.

            The month of June will showcase television commercials, billboards and digital ads urging motorists to give full attention to their driving. Texas Mutual Insurance Company is collaborating with the TxDOT in hosting interactive driving safety events at shopping malls statewide to educate drivers on how distracted driving-related crashes have already affected Texans. There will even be distracted driving simulators.

            Beside cell phone use, drivers are commonly distracted by such activities as eating, drinking, reading, grooming, programming a GPS and adjusting radio dials. The TxDOT advises drivers to:

 

            * Give driving 100% of your attention 100% of the time.

            * Put your phone away or turn it off before getting behind the wheel.

            * Pull off the road to a safe location before texting or talking on the phone.

            * Tell family, friends and co-workers you will not respond to calls while driving.

            * Use a smartphone app that sends auto-reply texts when you’re behind the wheel.