I have a dear friend who is also a high-powered business woman. She is a smart, savvy, successful entrepreneur who closes multi-million dollar deals one minute, leads a national women’s organization the next, and hosts glittering, fun-filled parties in her exquisitely decorated home that evening.

She is amazing and inspiring in innumerable ways.

She also spends many hours in her car, driving to client appointments, lunch dates, and board meetings. And when she’s in the car, she spends most of her time on the phone.

“I’m pretty hands-free,” she explained when she called me last week, “but sometimes Siri doesn’t understand what I’m saying, and I have to pick up my phone and dial instead.”

And that’s why she called me.

“I want you to know something important,” she explained. “I never gave a second thought to using my phone in the car. I have business to tend to, and my mobile makes that a constant possibility. But ever since Sam’s accident, I have been hyper-aware of what I’m doing on the road. On several different occasions today, I set my phone back down and decided that whatever I needed to do could wait.”

It was a perspective I hadn’t yet taken, that my 18-year-old’s experience could have an affect on this uber-successful mother, grandmother, and business executive’s modus operandi.

“And that’s not all,” she explained. “I thought a lot about Sam today, and this is what I believe… He’s a smart kid, one who normally makes good, solid decisions. He’s a leader, and the other kids look to and listen to him. I am certain there are kids at that high school — either today, tomorrow, or years down the road — who will be saved by Sam because they remember his accident and choose to make a different decision. Things happen for a reason, and although we may not be privy to it, I truly believe that Sam’s experience will save someone else’s life.”

I’ve been so overwhelmed throughout the past week by Sam’s passengers’ injuries and the panic attacks and the CT scans and the insurance claims and the rental cars and the inevitable rate increases and the six different schedules with one car and the search for replacement vehicles and the court appearance and the money and the money and the money that I hadn’t stopped to look at the other side.

But there is always another side.

Perhaps Sam’s accident saved Gus or Mary Claire or George.

Perhaps our temporary pain and inconvenience will be someone else’s lifeline.

Maybe it will be Sam’s own.

My insightful friend and I discussed distracted driving, and she mentioned a recent news report she’d seen. The premise of it was this: That glancing at a text or an email while you’re stopped in your car still leaves you disoriented and unfocused when you continue your drive. And isn’t it true? Haven’t we all read an email or a text, been startled by the green light, and readjusted our focus as we pulled back into traffic? Distracted driving isn’t just texting… it’s checking email and pulling up Google Maps and adjusting our playlist and peeking at our SportsCenter alerts.

I talked with another dear friend this week, who made me think even more. She said, “I believe that when our kids are grown, they’ll look back on texting and driving like we look back on our parents’ cigarette habits. Our parents smoked around us — and while they were pregnant with us — without a second thought, without fully knowing or understanding the ramifications. As far as cars and mobile phones go, I think our kids and grandkids are going to someday ask, ‘What in the world were you thinking?'” I remember hanging pictures of blackened lungs all over our apartment as a desperate warning to my beloved Mom. I remember crushing packs of Benson & Hedges. I remember sitting in mentholated clouds of smoke in the Chevette, windows rolled up tightly. Distracted driving does feel that way. There’s a sense of impending doom, a shadow of what next? and how many?, an almost palpable notion that we’re heading down a dark and dangerous road.

We need to make a U-Turn.

I drafted a contract for all my kids last night. As their permits and licenses are granted by the state, they will all be required to sign it. It outlines a promise that they make to us, to their friends, to their loved ones, and to everyone else on the road. They will put their phones in the glove box or the closed console while they’re driving. Every time.

Will you do it, too? I am. I’m signing my own contract today. I’m doing it for my husband, for my kids, for my friends, for the strangers on the road beside me, for you.

Whatever is on your phone can wait until you arrive safely at your destination.

You’re too important.

We all are.

~ ~ ~

Many have asked for a copy of our family contract. I have attached a PDF version here. It’s not fancy or high-tech (because I’m neither fancy nor high-tech), and I’ve changed it at least 20 times since I first wrote it. I don’t think it’s universally editable (nor do I know how to make it so), but you are welcome to use any or all of it to create your own. If you Google “Teen Driving Contracts” you can also find many that are ready and available for your use. Stay safe and well, dear ones.

Willis Driving Contract 2014

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9 Responses

  1. Care to share your contract? I’d love to see it and possibly useing at school for our texting and driving campaign in February.

  2. My brother was in a car accident when was 16 that left him paralyzed. If he had worn a seat belt, he would have had no more than a scratch. I wear my seat belt religiously and make others do so too because of that. I tell that story to all the teenagers who will listen. I have thought many times that I’m sure he saved many lives and injuries.

  3. Thank you for your words, Katrina. I’m taking Sam’s experience to heart. Maybe my driving distractions don’t end up hurting me, but they could hurt the Sams of the world — those in another car.

  4. Thank you so much for this important reminder. Yes, Sam’s mistake will help many…especially because YOU are willing to share your experience and perspective. And I do hope that one day doing anything on a cellular phone or other gadget while driving will be universally considered to be unacceptable. Shoot, even EATING and driving can be hazardous. Again thank you.

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