End Distracted Driving – Recent Data Impels Reflection, Action

by Patrick MacAvoy, Esq.

I live in Philadelphia and practice out of offices in both the city and Media. On a city day, I leave my car parked in whatever tight spot I was able to finagle closest to my South Philly home. Best leave it there to avoid congested Center City streets riddled with potholes – plus, subway air is starch for the soul. On a Media day, I “Austin Powers” my way out of the beartrap parking spot and through neighborhood nooks and crannies until launching onto 95-South.

My twenty-five- to thirty-minute commute to and from Media is the perfect window of time to accomplish essential tasks from using Bluetooth for phone calls and voice memos to listening to news and music. Until recently, all the bad drivers on the road were in front of or behind me. Until recently, all the distracted drivers were in the other lanes. Until recently, I was only worried about them – not me, and not us, Pennsylvania trial lawyers who promote the much acclaimed End Distracted Driving (EndDD) campaign created by PAJ Member Joel Feldman and his wife Dianne Anderson through their Casey Feldman Foundation.

Then I read this: while the number of highway deaths on Pennsylvania roads fell to a record low in 2013 (1,208, the lowest number since recordkeeping began in 1928), fatalities increased in some types of crashes, including those involving distracted drivers. According to PennDOT there were sixty-four (64) fatalities in crashes involving distracted drivers, up from fifty-seven (57) in 2012. It has been said that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. But these numbers do not lie. As aptly noted by PennDOT’s secretary Barry J. Schoch, “[W]e must never forget that these aren’t just random statistics, but rather they were somebody’s loved ones.”

And then I spoke with PAJ Member Tony Baratta of Baratta, Russell & Baratta. In early March, Tony volunteered to speak to students at Episcopal High School to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. His presentation was in conjunction with the EndDD project. Tony found that the materials provided by the Feldman Foundation were fantastic, and he even arranged for a client injured by a distracted driver to speak to the audience, which included both students and parents. Tony did note, however, that in some ways he felt hypocritical because, like me, he regularly uses his phone via Bluetooth while driving. He reflected on this in a thoughtful blog post, which can be found at http://www.barattarussell.com/blog/ (April 3, 2014 post). He asks difficult questions such as “Did I believe that my own cell phone usage is safe, while the cell phone use of others is dangerous? Are you like me?” I am.

As Tony expressed to me, EndDD creates a much more onerous burden than to simply stop texting. And while it is very difficult to live up to that standard, EndDD is certainly a worthy and noble cause, which is highlighted by the continued rise in distracted drivers causing deadly accidents. Preventable accidents.

“What will it take for us to change the way we drive?” is the poignant question urged by Dianne Anderson at the end of the Faces of Distracted Driving video that tells the tragic story of Joel and Dianne’s daughter Casey. We must not only ask this question of others, but of ourselves. The journey of changing ourselves is unremitting – there are no victories, only humility, resolve and perseverance. So let us, trial lawyers, continue to spread awareness through compelling storytelling and demonstration, while at the same time bringing focus to our own distractions.

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