I could say I was sleep deprived—two young children who weren’t sleeping through the night.
I could say I was under a lot of stress—just moved to a new city, husband traveling, feeling isolated and depressed.
I could say my children were not in the car with me … and I was just making a quick call.
I could say those things, but they don’t matter—they don’t matter when you find yourself blowing through a red light and the grill of a truck comes within feet of your car door.
My hands shook for a good twenty minutes after coming through the near miss completely unscathed. In my rattled state, I felt the urge to reprimand myself for being so damn careless with my precious life—but I didn’t. Instead, I made excuses. But excuses for such reckless behavior come out sounding pathetic, hallow, and downright ludicrous. So I didn’t tell anyone … and acted like it never happened.
I’d like to say that incident changed me.
And it did … for about a week. For a week, I didn’t touch my phone while driving, but the urge to call and chat and check were strong. So I went back to making excuses.
It’ll just be a second.
The traffic isn’t bad.
I’ll just check at a stoplight.
I’m good at multi-tasking.
The kids aren’t with me.
This call is important.
This message can’t wait.
And for two years after the red light incident, I continued my distracted ways. When I think about the number of times I put my life and my children’s life at risk for the sake of a meaningless call or message, my face burns with shame.
But one glorious day, while out for a run, I was overcome with regret, sorrow, and clarity. I vowed to stop making excuses as to why I was missing my life – and risking my life – for my distractions.
Within hours of that life-changing run, I took one of the first steps toward living free from distraction’s powerful grip. I turned off the notifications on my phone and put it in a drawer. No longer would I be controlled by the sound of notifications, beeps, and dings. No longer would my attention on the living beings in my home be suddenly dropped because of the summons from a little black box.
The immediate peace in my house was not only noticeable, it was freeing and empowering. Suddenly I was the one in charge of my thoughts, my attention, and my actions—not my phone.
I knew what I must do the next time I got in the car.
My phone was put on silent while I drove. And to help control any sudden urges to check the screen, I put the phone in my purse and placed it on the floorboard of the passenger seat where it could not be reached.
Immediately the atmosphere in the car changed. With one flip of the ‘off’ button, I was available to the little girls sitting in the backseat of the car. The fact that they noticed and responded to my newfound availability was evident. It became clear that my children had missed their mother chatting with them, pointing to things as we drove, and asking them questions about their day. With the phone turned off and out of reach, I was back in the driver’s seat of life … literally and figuratively.
It’s been exactly three years since I made changes in the way I drive. Although I am definitely not perfect, my children know I make a conscious daily effort to avoid phone use while driving. I find it ironic that I always kept my phone turned on and nearby because I thought I would miss something “important.” I was actually missing what was most important by being tied to my phone while driving. Drive time has become a safe haven from outside distractions—a place where my children open up and talk to me. That is what is most important now.
I must admit, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about her—that tired, stressed out, overwhelmed woman who ran a red light five years ago and almost lost her life. If I could talk to her today, I would tell her what I know now that I didn’t know then …
Don’t look away,
There’s too much ahead of you.
Don’t look away,
There’s nothing on that screen that can’t wait.
Don’t look away,
No call is worth your life.
Don’t look away,
What matters in life cannot be repaired or replaced.
Don’t look away,
Life should come to a stop at a red light, but not an end.
And then I would tell her that if she needed validation for putting away the phone, it would eventually come.
A year after she stops driving distracted, she is sitting at a stop light next to her neighborhood grocery store. Her older daughter looks over at the cemetery next to the traffic light. Although they’d passed it many times, this is the first time she speaks about it. Gazing out the window at the gravestones protruding from the ground, her astute child says, “I bet 95 percent of those people died from texting and driving.”
And after a heart-stopping pause, the little girl says, “I am glad you don’t do that anymore, Mama.”
That’s when you look up at that red light and count your blessings, starting with the precious cargo in backseat—two children who are learning how to navigate life by watching you live.
Truth be told, this was a difficult post to write. Although I alluded to the incident it in a previous post, it was too painful to recount all the shameful details of that horrific near miss at the traffic light. But then something happened when I shared the following words in an article I wrote for Randi Zuckerburg’s Dot Complicated site:
“… the woman who now ‘rarely’ uses the phone in the presence of her family was the woman who once thought nothing of having a phone glued to her ear she drove her children … and thought nothing of checking emails while stopped at stoplights … and thought nothing about the ramifications of the constant dinging and ringing on the peaceful well-being of her family life … and inadvertently blew through a red light and almost left her children motherless.”
Soon after that article was published, one of my friends confided that it had become a habit to text at stoplights and sometimes while driving. With tears in her eyes, she vowed to end that dangerous practice immediately. By reading my story, my friend knew she was not alone and there was hope for her distracted ways. I thank my friend and so many of you for sharing your own difficult truths because it gave me the courage to share mine.
*One last note … anytime I see an article about a fatal distracted driving accident, I read it and share it with my children. My children and I were especially impacted by the image of Alexander Heit’s final text message. His courageous parents shared the image of his unfinished text message to warn others about the dangers of distracted driving.
**Thank you for being a part of The Hands Free Revolution. If today’s post impacted you, please share it. In your hands, this message has the power to save a life.