It can wait: Local advocates tackle distracted driving issue head-on

BEAUFORT COUNTY, NC (WITN) - Life forever changed for one local family seven years ago after a distracted driving accident took the life of a high school student.

On January 5, 2011, 18-year-old Sarah Edwards was driving on Chandler Road in Beaufort County when she heard her phone buzz. While looking at her phone, she veered across the center line, crashing into a log truck. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

“My daughter is gone because of a stupid mistake. She looked at that message. I can't speak to my child anymore. I don't get to hear her voice,” said her mother Tracy O’Carroll.

That’s why O’Carroll is using her own voice to tackle to problem head-on. Finding purpose in her pain, O’Carroll now serves as an advocate against distracted driving, sharing her daughter’s story to high school students and parents nationwide.

"I try to get my point across that this is what happens. This is what we live through everyday, not having her here because of a mistake she made over a text message,” she explained.

Unfortunately, accidents like Sarah’s have become a growing problem nationwide. On average, nine Americans are killed everyday in distracted driving accidents, according to the DMV.

"The average text takes about five seconds to send, so that's five seconds someone's eyes are off the roadway. In that time, at 55 mph, that's equivalent to traveling the length of a football field," according to Jennifer Wobbleton, Injury Prevention Program Coordinator at Vidant Medical Center.

But it’s not just texting that’s causing accidents behind the wheel. Highway Patrol trooper Doug Coley explains, “That includes passengers in the car, eating in the car, or trying to find that radio station where your favorite song is being played.” He added, “It only takes one second looking away from the road for something bad to happen. It’s not like playing a video game, it’s not like playing a movie, you can’t start over.”

While we can’t start over, we can start to build change. Luckily, major brands have taken steps by creating new technology to prevent distractions behind the wheel.

For example, Apple’s IOS system now has a “do not disturb while driving” feature. When activated, your phone will stay silent and your screen will stay dark when driving. If you receive a text message, an automatic reply will be sent, letting the sender know that you are driving.

A number of other applications are also available for download on Apple and Android products to help prevent distractions when on the road, including the following:

-CellControl is a subscription-based app that includes a dashboard device. When a car is moving, parents will be notified and able to block their teens from receiving calls or texts until they’ve come to a stop.

-Live2Txt lets you block incoming texts and calls while you’re behind the wheel. All you have to do is activate it before taking off.

-DriveSafe Mode allows parents to monitor or control their child’s devices. If your teen is texting or using any type of mobile app while in motion, you will get an immediate notification.

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-SafeDrive also rewards you for driving without distraction. The app will track your phone activity when you exceed 6 mph, giving you points everytime you keep your eyes off the screen.

Along with downloading applications, local advocates are also encouraging parents to start the conversation with their children early.

"From the time that parents turn their children around forward facing in car seats, their children are watching their every move behind the wheel. The time to start that conversation is not when they're 14 and going through drivers education, it's to start it much earlier,” said Wobbleton.

O’Carroll added, "I tell parents that when you know your child is driving, don’t call them. Set up a time frame. Give them a certain amount of time to get where they’re going and tell your child to call you when they arrive. Don’t call them when they’re down the road to see where they are or see if they’re on their way home because that’s a distraction, too."

At least 46 states currently have laws in place that ban texting while driving, including here in North Carolina. Any driver under the age of 18 is prohibited from all cell phone use (hand-held and hand-free) when a car is moving.