Distracted driving can kill

19-year-old Heather Lerch’s last minutes on Earth were spent texting while driving.

In February of 2010, Heather was killed instantly one month after her birthday, as her car left the roadway south of Tumwater, struck a guardrail and tumbled into a ditch. Now, as Heather’s parents deal with unimaginable grief, they’ve also become active in working to get the message out that distracted driving takes lives and changes families forever. This is their story:

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If you’re driving on the freeway, you can travel more than the length of a football field in the time it takes to read a short text message or dial a number.

When you’re in the car, keep your hands off the phone.

Quick facts about cell phone use while driving

  • 6,000 people — equal to every citizen of the Pierce County city of Steilacoom — were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver in 2008; 500,000 were injured.
  • A driver talking on a cell phone is as impaired as a driver with a .08 blood-alcohol level.
  • A driver who is texting is as impaired as a driver with a .16 blood-alcohol level. That’s double the legal limit.
  • Drivers talking on cell phones are half a second slower to hit the brakes in emergencies and miss more than half the visual cues seen by attentive drivers.

About Washington’s hands-free law

Talking or sending text messages while holding a wireless device carries a $124 fine. If police see you holding your phone, they can pull you over and ticket you. Drivers must use hands-free devices, and new drivers with instruction permits or intermediate licenses can’t use wireless devices at all except in emergencies. To read the cell phone laws, see:

Parents: Responsibility starts at home

Are you a parent that purchased your teen a cell phone when they entered middle school for “safety” reasons? Well the fact is, now that device is one of the most dangerous things they can have as they turn 16 and get behind the wheel of a car. Talk to your children about the life-changing effects distracted driving can have and set clear expectations that when they’re driving, they’re not playing with a cell phone. The call or text can wait.

Eyes off the road can change lives forever. Intermediate license holders can’t use any wireless device — with or without a hands-free device — while operating a vehicle unless they’re reporting an emergency.

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