Ending the Stoplight Excuses

The truth hurts, but the truth heals … and brings me close to the parent and person I want to be.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals … and brings me close to the parent and person I want to be.

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.

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The Truth About Texting

You just never know what might be coming around the bend.

*The National Safety Council’s Statistics Department estimates 400 people will die in traffic accidents this Labor Day holiday period, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2, and will end at 11:59 p.m. Monday, Sept. 5. Together we can reduce that tragic number simply by reading and sharing this message.

I recently found myself frantically pulling off to the side of the road, steadying my trembling hands, and taking deep calming breaths until my heart regained normal pace.

Never had I felt so certain I was about to die than I had in the two terrifying minutes prior to pulling my car to safety.

On a winding country road, just behind my neighborhood, a young man driving an old Chevy El Camino suddenly appeared around the bend traveling at a dangerous speed.

For a brief, yet agonizing period of time, I watched him lose control of his car and veer directly into my lane head-on.

I saw every agonizing detail of his pale white face.

And just below his chin, atop his steering wheel, nestled comfortably between his two hands was his phone.

While my life flashed before me, all I could think was this: Oh how tragic; the woman who writes about the cost of distraction was killed by a man who was texting and driving.

By the grace of God, the driver regained control and served back into his lane as my vehicle kicked up rocks along the roadside until it slowed to a stop.

I could barely finish my prayer of gratitude, when I began spitting words of raging anger at this young man. He was now long gone, probably continuing to type with the same agile fingers and careless disregard for human life that he had before he came around the curve.

I am not a violent person; I do not welcome confrontation, but how I wanted to grab him by the front of his shirt and shake him viciously until he begged for mercy. How dare you! How dare you value a stupid text message over my life?

Those words sounded vaguely familiar. I had spoken them somewhere before.

Oh, that’s right. To Myself.

I believe in being real in this space I call Hands Free Mama. For it is through my sharing that others can speak similar truths in your own lives. And through these truths we can begin to truly grasp what matters.

The truth hurts, but the truth heals.

While drowning in my overcommitted, highly distracted life approximately two years ago, I never indulged in texting while driving. However, I did allow myself to check email at stoplights when I was driving alone.

I convinced myself that it wasn’t like texting at all; I assured myself I was 100% focused on driving when the light turned green.

What a joke.

One day, as I was reading an email at a stoplight, the car in the left lane hit the gas and entered the intersection. Because I was multi-tasking, I carelessly followed his lead and began pressing on the gas. Suddenly I realized the car next to me had the green left turn arrow; my light was still red.

In that moment, I realized what I was doing was stupid. I realized what I was doing was wreckless, irresponsible, and risky. I realized this “innocent” little habit of mine, that I thought wasn’t so bad, could cost my children their mother.

I reprimanded myself the way I would have liked to scream at the texting driver who almost killed me:

How can you even think that reading a trivial email is worth risking the presence of a mother in your daughters’ lives?

Can you imagine whoever would have to break this news to your husband and parents? “I’m sorry, but Rachel was checking email on her phone and accidently drove into the middle of an intersection while the light was red.”

Seriously? You are an educated woman. What the hell is wrong with you????

It was the wake up call I needed; and I only needed it once. Thank God, I grasped it before I lived (or died) to regret that senseless habit.

I think of that decision every time my daughters and I make our 20-minute trip three times a week to my oldest daughter’s swim practice.

With my phone turned completely off, conversation flows freely. The three of us cover topics from Halloween costumes to endangered animals … from school yard bullies to American Girl dolls … from what it means to go to jail to what it means to go to heaven.

I hear my children’s dreams, their fears, their laughter and yes, sometimes their fighting. I am privy to the stories and questions of their five and eight-year-old minds and hearts, stories I wouldn’t hear (and may not even occur) if I were tied to my phone.

You see, my friends, here’s the best news of all …

When you turn off the phone and begin to connect with what really matters, like the dreams in your own head, and the conversations of the people in the backseat, you don’t even miss your phone.

This coming from someone who, two years ago, held on to her phone like an added extremity. Now there are occasions when I accidently leave home without it because my phone is not what I am connected to anymore.

And if your personal safety doesn’t provide enough motivation to abstain from your phone while driving, consider the fact that your driving habits greatly affect the driving habits of your children.

The following excerpt is taken from an article in the Washington Post entitled, “U.S. teens report ‘frightening’ levels of texting while driving.

“At a conference that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened to discuss distracted driving, he urged parents to set an example for their children by paying attention to the road.

But, the report says, ‘the frequency of teens reporting parent cellphone use behind the wheel in our focus groups was striking, and suggested, in many cases, that texting while driving is a family affair.’”

As I write today’s entry, I can’t help but think about the young mother who was texting while driving on the interstate with her ten-month-old baby in the car. Tragically, neither one survived the crash that resulted from a brief texting conversation. I cannot begin to imagine the pain their family is enduring.

Perhaps we can honor their memory by sharing today’s post with as many people as we know.

Perhaps someone will read this and decide to put the phone in the glove box while driving. And perhaps in that one simple action, this person will experience a conversation, a song, or an inner thought that will remind him or her just how beautiful … and how fragile … life truly is.

Maybe it will be someone you love.

Maybe it will even be you.

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The National Safety Council’s Statistics Department has declared Labor Day weekend as one of the busiest and deadliest times on U.S. roadways. It has been estimated that 400 people will die in traffic accidents during this Labor Day holiday period.

Because nearly one in four crashes involve cell phone use, the National Safety Council suggests the following, if tempted to use a cell phone when driving:

  • Change your voicemail greeting to indicate you are driving and will call back when safely parked.
  • Put your phone in your trunk or glove box.
  • Turn your phone on “silent.”
  • If you need to contact someone, pull over to a safe location and put your vehicle in “Park” before dialing.

And with your phone out of reach, may I suggest:

  • Conversing with someone who is riding with you.
  • Playing music and singing your heart out.
  • Cherishing a moment of complete silence.
  • Whispering prayers of gratitude.
  • Dreaming a dream.
  • Making a wish.
  • Simply feeling alive.

Let Labor Day weekend be a turning point in your life; let it be the day you put the phone away while driving.

The most meaningful connection is not found in a phone. It is either along side you or within you; all you have to do is grasp it.

*I urge you to click the “share” button below and send this to as many people as you can. Perhaps you could be the reason someone lives to see Tuesday, Sept. 6th and all the days thereafter.