Archive for Monday, August 19, 2013

Local accident victims advocate against texting while driving

About three years ago, Lawrence resident Josh Reese and his then 5-month-old daughter, Greer, were victims of a texting-while-driving accident on Kansas Highway 32. Reese, whose car was totalled when another driver crossed the median, says he is still amazed that he and his daughter came away from the accident unharmed.

About three years ago, Lawrence resident Josh Reese and his then 5-month-old daughter, Greer, were victims of a texting-while-driving accident on Kansas Highway 32. Reese, whose car was totalled when another driver crossed the median, says he is still amazed that he and his daughter came away from the accident unharmed.

August 19, 2013

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For a while after the crash, Greer Sears-Reese would panic every time a piece of silverware fell onto the floor.

It's understandable: A few months earlier, the infant was in the back of a car on a two-lane highway outside of Lawrence when it was struck by a teenage driver who was on his phone texting.

Her dad, Josh Reese, understands as well. He was behind the wheel that day. The 32-year-old from Lawrence hasn't looked at driving the same since. He's constantly staring into oncoming traffic, preparing for the moment when, like three summers ago, another car starts drifting into his lane.

While Reese and his daughter walked away with bumps and bruises that day, the mental anguish from the incident persists. Because had Reese not swerved at the last minute, they could have been killed.

All for a text message.

It's a story that's becoming increasingly common, as more and more Americans become the victims of texting-while-driving accidents. But while numerous studies in recent years have illustrated the dangers of texting behind the wheel and 41 states have banned the practice, experts say it's going to take years and, unfortunately, more tragedy to properly stigmatize the behavior.

"Attitudes haven't changed because we haven't had enough deaths to change public opinion on the risks," said Paul Atchley, a Kansas University psychology professor who has studied the issue extensively. "As people hear more stories they can relate to, from people in crashes, or if they know someone in a crash, they'll realize that the benefits we gain by being able to post to Facebook when we drive are far outweighed by the risks to public safety."

Atchley published a study in 2011 that found that 97 percent of KU students texted while they drove. That same year, there were an estimated 200,000 texting-related accidents in the United States, according to the National Safety Council.

"My warning to everyone is drive like everyone is trying to kill you," he said, "because they probably are."

Few citations issued

So far this year, 13 people have been cited for texting while driving in Lawrence Municipal Court, while another five have been convicted of the violation in Douglas County District Court.

Those numbers might be higher if Kansas' 2011 texting ban were easier to enforce, said Lawrence Police Sgt. Trent McKinley. The law includes exemptions for making and receiving phone calls, looking up a phone number in an address book, using the GPS feature, and receiving texts for emergencies like Amber Alerts and severe weather.

"If we pull up next to someone and see them doing something with their phones, it's extremely difficult, especially from the vantage point of another vehicle, to determine whether someone is doing one of those permitted functions or texting," McKinley said.

One tactic the department has at its disposal is riding in a taller vehicle with two officers, with the one in the passenger seat checking to see if drivers are texting.

Lawrence almost lost one of its most popular educators to a 2011 accident that was likely caused by texting. Lawrence High School teacher David Platt, whose story of his recovery from the crash was featured in last week's Journal-World, was on the interstate near St. Louis when another vehicle crossed the median, hitting his car head-on. He suffered three broken ribs, a cracked sternum and collapsed lung, among other injuries.

The police investigation found that the driver of the other vehicle, a 16-year-old Illinois girl on her way to work at a local water park, had made or received three calls or texts in the four minutes before the accident was reported; a T-Mobile official told police they were likely texts because of how closely apart they occurred. Police called the texts or calls a "contributing cause" of the crash.

"I realize that there's this intrinsic social connection in humans where it's hard not to pay attention to your phone when you're in a car," Platt said. "We have to come up with a system that accounts for that." He suggested that insurance companies offer rebates to parents who restrict their children's cellphone usage in the car.

Corey Roelofs, a 30-year-old nurse from Lawrence, was driving Platt's vehicle when it was hit that day, and had to have his spleen removed as a result. He said his friends and family members now recognize the dangers of using their phones behind the wheel. He just hopes the public eventually will, too.

"There are times I'm driving around town and I see someone weaving through traffic or even at a stoplight staring at the phones, not reacting, and I think, man, if they had seen what we went through and that girl's family experienced, there's no way someone would feel comfortable being as dangerous as they are having a cellphone in their hand," he said.

The incident actually changed the course of Roelofs life. At the time of the accident, he worked as a nurse in Kansas City, Kan. But all the highway commuting took a mental toll on him, so he found a job closer to home, at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. He believes a ban on all handheld devices, like California and even Manhattan, Kan., has, would make the roads immeasurably safer.

Fateful, almost fatal, day

On July 9, 2010, Reese and his then 5-month-old daughter were heading east on Kansas Highway 32 when another vehicle crossed the centerline — and kept coming. Reese jerked the wheel to go into the other lane, but it was too late: The car smashed into the passenger side of his 2007 Ford Focus.

Both Reese and his daughter were taken to a local trauma center for testing. While they didn't sustain any major injuries, Reese was bedridden for a week with severe hip and back pain.

After the other driver's insurance company declined to pay for the trauma center visit, Reese hired a local attorney, Terry Campbell, to represent him. Campbell deposed the other driver, who denied using his phone before the accident. However, after Campbell subpoenaed the DeSoto man's phone records he found he had sent 13 texts in the nine minutes before he reported the accident to 911, including a picture message just one minute before. The insurance company settled.

The accident could have been a lot worse. Reese's wife usually drove her car right in front of his when they traveled from Lawrence to their then-hometown of Kansas City, Kan. They also sometimes carpooled. Instead, she decided to leave five minutes early that day.

Reese wishes cellphone companies would install software that disables texting when the devices are in a moving vehicle. Another fix, he said, might involve plainclothes police officers in unmarked cars looking strictly for texting drivers.

While the accident hasn't led Reese, who works in information technology, to invent a solution to this problem himself — at least not yet — it has turned him into an extremely careful driver.

"I know I'm looking at the road," he said. "I just hope everybody else is."

Comments

Ron Holzwarth 1 year, 7 months ago

Time and time again over the last few hundred years new technologies have outstripped our ability to use them safely.

Ricky_Vaughn 1 year, 7 months ago

So texting is illegal, but staring at the same screen with a map on it while driving is legal? Why does the law allow you to do everything with your phone except text in your car? The law is pretty worthless if it can't be enforced, isn't it?

tomatogrower 1 year, 7 months ago

The insurance company declined to pay for the trauma center? Even if their client hadn't been texting he was in the wrong lane. I wonder what their reasoning was?

Laurel Sears 1 year, 7 months ago

Rest assured, the insurance company was doing what it is in business to do: save itself money. They argued that the trauma center visit was unnecessary. They argued that someone (a doctor or something) had called for too many tests (Josh and Greer has CT scans and MRI, I think). I'm the wife and my memory is a bit sketchy because I was so freaked out. It was pretty standard insurance company practice though. We learned this along the way.

tomatogrower 1 year, 7 months ago

Well, maybe more tests than needed for Dad, but for a 5 month old? I can imagine how freaked out you were. And it was a head on accident, not a fender bender. Insurance companies gamble with insurance, and they should have accepted that this time they lost.

jack22 1 year, 7 months ago

"It's a story that's becoming increasingly common, as more and more Americans become the victims of texting-while-driving accidents." And texting while driving is like an epidemic in Lawrence. It's as if people feel a need to drive and talk or text on their phones. It's more common than driving drunk and often just as dangerous. I'm all for making this dangerous behavior illegal.

jack22 1 year, 7 months ago

I often forget that texting while driving is illegal in Kansas as I see so many people doing it. I equate anything with a cell phone and driving, be it talking, texting, watching a video, looking up a song, etc., as equally dangerous.

Kendall Simmons 1 year, 7 months ago

Except that, as the article says, Kansas' 2011 texting ban "includes exemptions for making and receiving phone calls, looking up a phone number in an address book, using the GPS feature, and receiving texts for emergencies like Amber Alerts and severe weather."

Ricky_Vaughn 1 year, 7 months ago

So basically, it's legal to look at your phone in the car. Even the cops admit that they can't tell what you're doing when you're looking at your phone. Absolutely pointless.

Wayne James 1 year, 7 months ago

I SECOND that suggestion. Cell phones are bad enough by themselves, but this texting craze is ludicrous. Or the use of a "smart" phone. Why does one need a phone to surf the I/N or carry an "APP" to your favorite restaurant or newspaper? Can't you get the latest news from the car radio when driving? Or from the TV when at home? Technology is going to kill us all. No offense intended, but the Japanese lost the war in 1945, but they are getting even now with the hype that their cars are better than those made by GM or Ford or Chrysler. I don't believe it for one minute. Also, where do you think nearly all of these "smart" phones come from? Japan & China. Our labor costs are too outrageous for us to make these devises so we can't make them here in the good old US of A. These countries are going to beat us by using our greed against us. Anytime some company comes up with something new, whether it is a cell phone, or a new car, or a new kitchen appliance. We just can't live without the latest and best. I suggest throwing away all phones that you can "text" on or discontinue the ability to send/receive text messages. Mr. Alexander Graham Bell is probably rolling over in his grave at all the nonsense that has come about since his initial invention. I see no point in texting an order into your favorite restaurant. Chances are they won't prepare it until you get there to avoid spoilage.

Hooligan_016 1 year, 7 months ago

I get paranoid when I glance in my review mirror and see one hand on the wheel and the other hand holding up a phone. I'm waiting for the inevitable rear-end smash.

Ronnie24 1 year, 7 months ago

I hate texting . If Im in a car with ANYONE trying to text, I start in telling them to put their phone down. Dont do that. Dont text. Anything to get them to stop with the phone! I must be really annoying, because they do as I ask. If I see someone in another car texting, which I have often, I want to roll my window down and yell, put that da-- thing away. Paranoid, yes. Ive seen to many victims of phone related accidents. People, think before you pick up your phone. Nothing can be that important that it cant wait until you can stop.

Robert Rauktis 1 year, 7 months ago

They don't wear seat belts, why expect them to forgo something sexier?

grammaddy 1 year, 7 months ago

My car is a "no phone zone" for myself and all passengers. Nothing is so important that it cannot wait until the car is stopped.

jhawkinsf 1 year, 7 months ago

Cell phone usage while driving is a sufficient distraction that it ought to be banned, in addition to the already existing ban on texting while driving.

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

I text at those long freaking stop lights around town. then the phone is out of my hand when it turns red. I don't see an issue with a passenger using their cell phone, as long as the driver keeps the eyes on the road.

gatekeeper 1 year, 7 months ago

It's illegal for you to text while sitting at a light (check the law). If the vehicle is running, driver shouldn't be texting.

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

If it aint moving, I see no problem with sending a quick text, which all of mine are.

Kendall Simmons 1 year, 7 months ago

If it's against the law, that alone ought to be sufficient reason to not do it.

But, since it's not, how about this one? Why not set a good example for your kids!!

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

My kids are older, and know not to text while driving down the road. Platt was their teacher during high school and understand the consequences. I text while sitting at a stop light which can last forever at this town. But go ahead, be self righteous, although you know nothing about me.

Wayne James 1 year, 7 months ago

Why do you feel the need to "TEXT" someone? Can't you simply call them and have a voice conversation instead. Oh, I get it. You don't want to get into an intimate conversation with another person. Heaven forbid someone should actually hear your voice!

elliottaw 1 year, 7 months ago

There are a lot of reasons that sending a quick text is easier than calling someone up, just because you don't like it doesn't mean that it can't be useful, I don't like soy milk but that doesn't mean that it is useless.

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

Exactly! its easier to send a quick yes and no, then try to call and wait for someone to answer. and if they don't answer right away, they will see that they have one, which is easier than a voicemail.

Kendall Simmons 1 year, 7 months ago

Why do you feel you have to respond immediately in the first place? Indeed, why do you feel you have to read your texts immediately?

Did you truly not live in the days before everyone had a cell phone? Do you truly think that a ringing phone must be answered? Do you truly not understand that, unless you've been desperately trying to get information from the caller, THEY are contacting you at THEIR convenience...which means that YOU do not have to immediately drop what YOU are doing to cater to them.

Which is most important to you? Easier? Quicker? Or SAFER????? Or do you truly believe that you and your loved ones are immune? That you and your loved ones will never be hurt yourselves...or hurt anyone else?

Imagine what it would be like if one of your kids were to be hurt or, god forbid, killed simply because of someone like you. Some other mother who saw no harm in breaking the law "a little". Someone who saw no harm in teaching their kids that it was OK to text while driving "sometimes".

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

again, you know nothing about me, so I would stop since you were behind. I never said I answered immediately. that would be texting and driving. instead, I answer when i am stopped at a light or when I pull into the parking spot. I don't answer ringing phones, as I have already written.
I never said I was immune. I said I answer texts while I am stopped.
My kids know not to text while driving, as they attended LHS and know what happened to platt. So stop worrying about what I am teaching my kids, and worry about your own.

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

AND i also teach them not to mess with the radio while driving or their ipods and other such things. I don't mess with it either. I text when I stop, including red lights. I wear my seatbelt, I come to a complete stop at signs and I pass safely. That's better than 90% on the road. so beat me with a wet noodle because I text at a long red light!

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

To wayward soul, judgemental, aren't we.

Kendall Simmons 1 year, 7 months ago

Huh???

"I text at those long freaking stop lights around town. then the phone is out of my hand when it turns red"???

mom_of_three 1 year, 7 months ago

its called english. I read texts while stopped at stop lights and answer if needed. then the phone is out of my hand when it turns red. that would be the light, since I am stopped at it.

Tony Holladay 1 year, 7 months ago

"I text at those long freaking stop lights around town. then the phone is out of my hand when it turns red."

Or until the person behind you starts honking because the light turned green 30 seconds ago! lol

Hoots 1 year, 7 months ago

You're the person we have to honk at when the light has been green for 10 seconds and you're the person that makes us miss the turn signal completely because your social life is so much more important than us getting where we need to be. You are also the person that flips us off when we honk to remind you that you are driving a car and not sitting on your couch. Put your phone away and just freaking drive for once.

gatekeeper 1 year, 7 months ago

I was hit 3 years ago while sitting at 23rd and Mass at a red light and a young girl hit me full speed. I looked up in my mirror just in time to see her right before she hit me. Her head was down, phone in hand, obviously texting. My car went into the vehicle in front of me, which then hit the vehicle in front of them. I told the responding officer that she was texting and not wearing her seatbelt. The officer REFUSED to check her phone to see if there was a text. REFUSED!!!!! I guess because she was cute and young, she got a pass. The officer removed her from the situation because WE (all the rest of us with totalled and wrecked cars) we making her uncomfortable, demanding they check her phone. She claimed she looked away for less than a second. Funny how I'd been stopped for at least 5+ seconds at the light and she'd been behind me since we were on K-10 and her barely glancing away caused her to hit me at 40 mph (she admitted she never even hit the brake).

Maybe drivers would take it a little more seriously if officers actually checked the phones to see if wrecks were caused because of playing with a phone. I spent 9 months in physical therapy and my car was totalled. I luckily got her insurance to cover everything, after having to consult with a lawyer because they were trying to not pay up.

I will never forget her or her face. I'm sure she barely remembers it and still probably texting while driving because she only got a slap on the wrist for not wearing her seatbelt and failure to control speed. I think of her every day when I take meds for the pain caused by the scar tissue in my lower back and cuss every driver I pass that's playing with their phone. I don't know when this state will start taking this seriously and ban phones while driving.

BorderRat 1 year, 7 months ago

In a similar situation I was told by the responding officer that without drivers permission or some type or court order they couldn't view any driver's cell phone data. They did however obtain all driver's cellular phone numbers for the report. Several lawsuits were filed against the offending driver and during the discovery process it was determined that he was indeed texting up to the time of the accident he caused.

gatekeeper 1 year, 7 months ago

If I had been blatently texting while ramming my car into a stopped vehicle at 40 mph, then I should be investigated. Myself, others that were in the other lane and stopped at the light ALL told the cop that she was texting and looking down. Examples need to be made of people who have no regard for anyone's safety and think it's ok to play with their phone instead of paying attn to the road. You would feel different about police investigating this stuff if your life had been changed permanently because a twit thought texting her boyfriend was more important (we know she was texting him because he made the comment when he showed up on the scene).

Great day for this article because I have a lot of pain today from this wreck and have been cussing this girl since I got out of bed. Since an example wasn't made of her (you should lose your license for texting and driving), I'm sure she woke up happy and is enjoying her day. I'll have pain 'til the day I die.

So yes, investigating the person's cell phone at a wreck to see if they sent a text at the time of the wreck is warranted.

elliottaw 1 year, 7 months ago

Did you take her to court? That is well within your rights.

Kendall Simmons 1 year, 7 months ago

I hope you now realize that, legally, the cops cannot check a person's cell phone at an accident scene. And that you also realize that the person's cell phone records will provide the necessary information and can be subpoenaed.

Frankly, it seems pretty obvious to me that, if you want this changed...then you need to work on changing the law, not just gripe online about it. You won't be alone!

It truly sucks that you were injured and will suffer for a lifetime. (I'm in a very similar and painful situation myself, so empathize greatly)

But you've got to finally accept that the cop's checking her cell phone at the scene wouldn't have changed that in the least little bit. Nor would it have changed whether or not she lost her license.

I think you might want to consider that it's time to let go of your anger. After all, every time you get angry at this girl, I'm betting you tense up and make your pain worse...which certainly seems counter-productive. I mean, the only person your anger is currently hurting is yourself, so what's the point?

Currahee 1 year, 7 months ago

This should include just operating a cellphone in general. I know I'm guilty of looking for songs to play on my phone. One time on I70 I hit a tire on the road. It was too late to avoid it. Thankfully it didn't cause any damage but I learned my lesson. I never operate my mobile phone when I'm on the road. Only when I'm parked.

Currahee 1 year, 7 months ago

I would say the easy way... I did not hit anyone, no one got hurt. But it was enough to stop me from doing it.

melott 1 year, 7 months ago

Gatekeeper, you should have reported the officer--name and badge--in a complaint.

Wayne James 1 year, 7 months ago

Oh, she could have, but he was investigating an accident and making a report on his findings at the scene. If you feel you have ever been wronged or have not gotten the justice you sought ant the scene of an accident, there are plenty of bloodthirsty/ambulance chasing lawyers wanting your insurance company's money.

gatekeeper 1 year, 7 months ago

We were just lucky to get the accident report. He filed more than a week after the wreck (it was like 8-10 days). He was young and totally babied the girl that caused the wreck because she was young and cute and scared. Her insurance was the biggest group of jerks I've ever had to deal with (my insurance had to help fight to get them to pay up). After speaking to a lawyer, he sent one threatening letter and then advised that if we take it to court, the young, cute girl would just cry because she didn't mean to cause the accident and juries almost always feel sorry for the young ones that cry in court. Since I can still walk and don't qualify for disability, just have scar tissue and pain, I got a small settlement and bills paid. When you look at the amount the lawyer would take from any court case, the amount I'd receive was about the same as what I settled for.

Kendall Simmons 1 year, 7 months ago

He was following the law. Regardless of whether or not he thought she was cute.

Kari Wempe 1 year, 7 months ago

Here is my question: Who are you to think you are SO important that texting or making cell phone calls must be made immediately? Pull into a parking lot, pull off the road, do something but use these devises while driving. Drivers you are steering a 2 ton bullet... remember that.

BTW that goes for you who drive and read the paper, read a book on your notebook device, put on make up, stuff your face with breakfast, lunch or dinner, drink (whatever liquid), or disipiline your kids in the back seat. Driving is a responsiblity and a priviledge. Thank you- I have safely jumped off my soap box.

patkindle 1 year, 7 months ago

a lot of the smarter folks in lawence believe their superior existence support texting and driving, they are in the same group with the drunk drivers

Jean Robart 1 year, 7 months ago

I can see and understand why people in this story want phones disabled when in a moving vehicle. Why, though, punish a PASSENGER from using a phone to text or talk while somebody else is driving?

jack22 1 year, 7 months ago

I don't understand that either, but it is annoying when a passenger in the car is engaged in another conversation and paying no attention to those around them. Plus, as a driver, it's nice to have your passengers looking out and engaging with you. You're not likely to hear the warning, "hey, lookout", if your kid or passenger is focused on their phone instead of their surroundings.

Bailee Winetroub 1 year, 7 months ago

I'm actually surprised that I'm not disturbed by the majority of the comments on this one. Put the phone away, it can wait - if for some crazy reason you MUST text, pull over. Stop being selfish.

Maggie Morrissey 1 year, 7 months ago

We use to be able to run errands, drive from point A to point B without the need of constant communication. Now everyone is getting use to instant response. If you don't text back immediately you get "whats wrong?", "everything ok?", etc.......lost is living in the moment and enjoying people and surroundings you are in. If you are in a car put your phone away! Enjoy the drive! Relax. Concentrate on the road and traffic.

Another sad thing with cell phones....in my neighborhood...just for an example... a lady and her kids walk their dog everyday. Its so sad because she is ALWAYS yapping on her cell phone. Missing the moment with her children, her dog, the neighborhood. Be in the moment. Be in the moment with those with you. The phone calls and texts can wait. For reasons other than just safety.

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