I attended a funeral Monday for a young man who would have turned 19 yesterday.
He died riding his motorcycle.
As the clock approached the 3 p.m. funeral, a long line of 17- to-19-year-olds filed into the sanctuary, standing along the back wall of the filled-to-capacity room.
When the floor was opened for eulogies, many of these teens made their way to the front.
One young man fiddled with his phone to find his eulogy notes, instead of fumbling for paper like some other adults. There were bracelets halfway up a couple of arms, well-worn sneakers paired with ties and button-ups, and a few heads dyed purple.
I couldn’t help but think what Mr. Charles Wilborn, whose own funeral was yesterday, would have told these students if they’d come through one of our Youth Leadership Institute "dress for success" classes he taught.
In other words, these could have been teenagers from any community, including ours.
Watching the tears pour down the faces of this victim’s younger brothers didn’t make it any easier..
You might think this column is about to be on the dangers of motorcycles, but it’s not. It’s also not on teen driving. This was a teenager who’d just told his dad he loved him and headed off to work.
There has been no report that he was doing anything other than driving his motorcycle lawfully and carefully to work, and apparently wearing the appropriate gear, as he always did, even when riding his dirt bike.
Instead, this is a wake-up call to you and me: It’s not just new drivers who make careless mistakes. The driver who pulled into the path of the motorcycle is 34 years old. He had presumably been driving for many years. While he didn’t maliciously set out to kill a young man, he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor vehicular homicide and will have to live with this every day.
Obviously, I have no idea what went on in the pickup truck, but I think every one of us can admit to a lot of distractions in our own cars, distractions that could so easily lead to the same kind of accident one day.
With the move to more hands-free and voice-activated options in our vehicles, one would think we’re less distracted these days. But the opposite seemed to prove true in a study this year by the University of Utah and the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The study compared the cognitive distraction levels of various tasks while driving.
We all know that taking our eyes off the road to read a text or map, or taking our hands off the steering wheel can be dangerous, but there seems to be a belief that just talking can’t hurt anything.
In the study, mental distractions were measured in terms of braking time, following distances and glances at hazards, all things that could have potentially caused, or prevented, the accident last weekend.
On a scale of 1 (normal driving tasks only) to 5 (completing math tasks or memorizing words while driving), the study found that listening to the radio or a book on tape barely increased the dangers of driving, with rankings of 1.21 and 1.75, respectively.
Climbing the scale, talking to a passenger came in at 2.33, just between talking on a hands-free cell phone (2.27) and talking on a hand-held cell phone (2.54). That’s right: Talking to a passenger and on a hands-free device ranked as almost identical distractions. Speech-to-text systems ranked the highest in the study, at 3.06.
Combine radios with phones, in-car systems, crying babies and eating fast food, and who knows where we fall on that scale?
I hope I never have to attend another funeral like this one, yet I know I can’t save the whole world.
What I can do, though, is make my car a little safer place by saving the multitasking for the office or while cooking. I truly believe things happen for greater causes, so I invite you to join me in memorializing Cam with a pledge.
Won’t you join me in putting away the phone completely while driving, saving conversations for later, and reducing other driving distractions?
Terri Kimble Fullerton is the Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.