On May 18, 2008, the family I knew ceased to exist. A three-vehicle collision initiated by a cell phone distracted driver took the lives of my parents, Jean and Jay Good, and left me on the brink of death. I wasn't expected to survive.
Miraculously, I did survive, but was left with several permanent handicaps.
Obviously this crash has had an overwhelming impact on me and my loved ones, but such tragedies don't merely impact the people in the cars. Like dropping a stone in a pond, there is a far-reaching ripple effect on people who have been deeply impacted by the preventable pain caused by a single moment of inattention.
Thankfully my brother was not in the car that day, but that meant he had the responsibility of gathering our aunts, uncles, and grandparents to tell them that their sibling or their child was gone forever. While clinging to the hope that I’d survive, they were left with the task of planning my parents’ funeral.
This is the raw pain felt within the first ripple of tragedy.
But the effects go so much further than that. My mom was the awesome eighth grade English teacher everybody wanted to have at Ephrata Middle School. The day after she was killed, a substitute teacher, along with several guidance counselors and school psychologists brought in to assist the school’s own support team, informed 300 13-year-old students that Mrs. Good wasn’t there and was never going to return.
For so many of those students Mrs. Good was a foundation of their education. She genuinely loved every student equally and provided support that many of them never saw at home. These students graduated high school four years later in June 2012, and at that ceremony four students were selected as speakers. Three of those four talked about Mrs. Good--how much they loved her, how much they missed her, and how much losing someone so important to them at such a critical age had changed their lives forever.
I was lucky enough to get to share my story and the power we have to prevent such horrible pain with these students last spring. I have spoken at more than 150 high schools through my career as a Hang Up And Drive public safety advocate, but I have never hugged so many crying young adults.
Through the last four years, every one of those grieving students needed friends and family for support; as the ripples traveled outward from my single incident, the number of “victims” spiraled into the thousands.
There’s the story of the student drifting over the line as she changed the radio station only to cause a fender bender with one of her favorite teachers from elementary school. But there's also the more horrific story from the student who just glanced down "for a moment" to check "just one text." In that single moment his eyes were off the road, he collided with another car, killing the wife of one his teachers.
A car crash doesn’t affect people – it affects communities.
At the rate that cell phone distracted driving incidents are occurring, it is only a matter of time until everyone has felt some degree of the 100% preventable pain caused by irresponsible choices made behind the wheel.
I hope you are fortunate enough to feel only an outward ripple from one of the thousands of crashes that has already happened and never have to feel the pain as closely as so many of us will for the rest of our lives.
The community and compassion shared through FocusDriven has played a key role in my coping and in my ability to share the story of my parents' lives. Read and tell the stories on their website.
Above all, do NOT wait until you are the victim or instigator of such senseless pain. Use empathy as the impetus to form a new driving habit. Set a standard for yourself and everyone you love: On The Road, Off The Phone. Every Time.
Jacy Good and her husband Steve Johnson can be reached at their road safety organization Hang Up And Drive.