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Close to Home: Breaking a deadly driving habit

Sadly, the consequences of distracted driving are fresh in our minds and raw in our hearts following the horrific collision that recently took the lives of two wonderful members of our community — Sue and Sharon Hufford.

Sue and her husband, Jay, were dear friends of mine back when I was a young mother and new to Santa Rosa. My heart aches for Jay's losses. In a matter of a few seconds, one reportedly distracted driver's indiscretion took from Jay his wife and the mother of his three children. Jay also lost his own mother in the crash and his father, Donald, was critically injured and lost his wife.

Tragedies like this have a broad ripple effect. Sue Hufford was a beloved music teacher in the Mark West Union School District, and there are now many parents struggling to explain to their children why she is no longer with them. Sue's and Sharon's family and friends will have to sit in traffic next to drivers who are texting only to be reminded that these careless drivers are taking lethal risks that may shatter more lives.

There are no words that do justice to the shared loss and anger we feel in the face of this tragedy, which, by all appearances, was 100 percent preventable.

In 2011, I was motivated to create a countywide coalition to address the escalating problem of distracted driving after a 2-year-old girl named Calli Murray was hit and killed by a young driver who was texting. Calli's mother was also left horribly disabled from the accident.

The Sonoma County Safe Streets Coalition is composed of law enforcement agencies, Safe Routes to School, the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition and county health and transportation agencies. And while we have been hard at work in our campaign and efforts to decrease distracted driving, there is no doubt we need to be more aggressive in getting our message out.

Who among us doesn't know by now that texting and driving is dangerous? And yet about 31 percent of Americans ages 18 to 64 have texted while driving in the past month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are some more sobering statistics to ponder. Nationwide, texting while driving causes 1.6 million accidents with 330,000 injuries per year. Texting and driving is responsible for 11 teen deaths every day and nearly 25 percent of all car accidents. Texting while driving is about six times more likely to cause an accident than driving intoxicated. It makes you 23 times more likely to crash and is the same as driving blind for five seconds at a time. It's like closing your eyes and driving.

Why are otherwise reasonable people still driving distracted? They make the mistake of thinking the statistics don't apply to them, that they can defy the odds. Many of us simply lead busy, stressful lives and use smartphones to stay connected with our families, friends and workplaces.

Since knowing the risks is not persuading enough of us to park the phone while we drive, the next challenge is to understand why we are so compelled to stay connected. One theory is that it's an addiction or a compulsive behavior. In either case, a big part of the solution is to remove the temptation.


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