Imagine driving the length of a football field at highway speed with your eyes closed. A lot can happen in those 100 yards.

That’s an idea Wadena Police Officer Aaron Schiller presented to a crowd of Wadena-Deer Creek high school students Wednesday, March 4. He was a speaker along with State Farm Insurance agent Jolene Johannes who shared stories and advice as part of a distracted driving presentation put on by FCCLA member Morgan Grangruth. Grangruth put on the event as part of her FCCLA events. She said she knows distracted driving is an issue among all ages, so she jumped at the chance to share some wisdom with her classmates, and hopefully save some lives.

Schiller spoke briefly about the hands-free cell phone law stating that it’s there to keep everybody safe. He said the law states that all devices must be hands free. He also reminded the students that anyone under 18 cannot use a phone while driving, even if utilizing hands-free technology. The law has been in place since April 2019.

“I understand how important our social life is and we want to stay connected to our friends and family … unfortunately many others thought that same thing,” Schiller said. “In 2019 2,994 people were killed in the U.S. as a result of distracted driving.”

Grangruth also went over some of the hard facts of distracted driving and ways to have a safer ride when in a vehicle.

“Texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than drunk driving,” Grangruth said. You are 30 times more likely to be ejected from a vehicle when not wearing a seat belt.

“Make it a habit to buckle up now,” Grangruth said.

Johannes shared personal stories of helping her clients that had their lives destroyed by distracted driving. In one case, a motorcycle driver was involved in a four-vehicle crash when a driver was texting and driving. That motorcycle driver lived, but everyday he lives in pain. He is unable to work or enjoy most of the things he once did.

“He is not the same person since before the accident,” Johannes said.

Wadena State Farm agent Jolene Johannes shares about her experiences with drivers involved in distracting driving crashes. 
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Wadena State Farm agent Jolene Johannes shares about her experiences with drivers involved in distracting driving crashes. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

What Johannes also explained is that the distracted driver’s life was also altered. Because they were under-insured, they had to pay the costs of the injuries and destruction they caused.

“You cannot declare bankruptcy to get out of a civil judgement,” Johannes said. “You owe money until it's paid off.”

Johannes, like Schiller and Grangruth impressed on the audience the life altering impact one text message can have on all those involved.

Schiller considered the football field a good graphic as that’s the average distance you’d travel when sending or reading a text.

“It’s never worth your life or the life of others to check your phone,” Schiller said.

Schiller gets to see how distracted driving impacts other drivers. He also gets to deal with the enforcement side of things after a law went into effect putting limits on cell phone use in vehicles. He shared that while youth are active on their cell phones, older generations have grown used to being able to answer and make calls while driving, too. Schiller said despite habitual use of phones while driving, compliance has been fairly good. He said those who’ve embraced Bluetooth technologies, hands-free calling and driving apps have found a way to use their phones in a safer, legal way.

He mentioned cell phone modes the students should consider, which in some cases send a response to those texting or calling a driver. As a driver, if you were to get a call or text, your phone would automatically send a reply that the driver will get back to them when they parked, or not driving 5,000 pounds of pain down a busy road.

Grangruth ended her talk by asking her fellow students to make a pledge to end distracted driving.

Apps that can save lives

EndDD.org (End Distracted Driving) lists several apps worth considering to keep you from answering the phone while driving and keep your friends and family from calling you once they know you are on the road.

Drive Smart

This app actually looks at your driving habits. So if you tend to speed it gives tips on avoiding that lead foot. Good driving offers rewards at participating stores.

True Motion

This family app shows family members the route you took to get to your destination, if you were speeding, using your phone or driving aggressively.

Uknowkids.com shares these app options.

Drive.Safe.ly

This app reads out texts and emails as they come in helping drivers avoid the desire to glance at the phone.

DriveScribe

Blocks incoming calls and texts when the car is traveling above a certain speed.

AT&T DriveMode

This offering is much like an out-of-office alert as it sends a message to those sending messages or calling the driver at speeds over 25 miles per hour.

Many more options exist that may work best for you and your family.