Alex Brown was late to school. She didn’t answer her phone. Her mother knew something was wrong, but drove past her daughter’s truck while out looking because she didn’t recognize the vehicle. Backtracking, she realized the truck belonged to Alex and found her lying in a nearby field going in and out of consciousness.
What happened? Alex had been texting and driving, while also not wearing her seatbelt. She lost control of her vehicle and was ejected through the passenger window. The truck then rolled over her.
Alex’s parents tell people that their daughter thought she was invincible. If you find yourself thinking this very thing, you’re not alone: 77 percent of young adults are very or somewhat confident that they can safely text while driving, while 55 percent of young adult drivers claim it’s easy to text while they drive, according to Quinstreet, Inc.
Alex was the school mascot in Wellman, Texas, and was expected to graduate at the top of her class. However, she chose to text four friends on her way to school that morning and never got the chance to give her valedictorian address.
While Johnny Mac and Jeanne Brown were waiting to tell their daughter goodbye for the last time, they made an important decision that would affect the rest of their lives. They decided to put her wrecked truck on a trailer and educate others of the dangers of texting and driving.
Alex died on the night of November 10, 2009. The Browns made their first presentation to Wellman High School December 1, 2009. Since then, they’ve been to more than 350 schools all over the United States, explaining the dangers of this perilous trend that has gripped so many within this technological-minded generation.
They’ve been on Oprah, The Huckabee Show and were even built a new house on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. However, The Brown Family made it clear why they do what they do.
“We don’t get up in front of these teenagers and tell the story of how our daughter died to get our name in the newspaper, get on T.V. or even to get a new house, because it really doesn’t fix anything; it doesn’t bring our daughter back,” Johnny Mac said. “We do what we do, because of the feedback we get from students and mothers thanking us because they’ve decided to change their lives and no longer text and drive. That fixes it for us. It makes it a little easier to bear, because we’re able to help others through our personal tragic experience.”
The dangers of texting and driving have been an issue for some time now; however, more must be done to increase awareness and eliminate this horrible habit.
“Deciding to text while driving is a personal choice,” Jeanne said. “We all must choose whether we are going to keep engaging in this harmful behavior, or if we’re going to pledge to stop and encourage others to stop, as well. It’s going to take education, laws and enforcement of those laws to really make a difference in driving behavior.”
In their presentation Jeanne gives the students some advice if they wish to continue texting and driving.
“I want these students to realize that if they choose to engage in this harmful behavior, they’re not just hurting themselves,” she said. “I ask them to consider what they would like planned for their funeral, because that was one of the hardest things for my family because we didn’t know what Alex would want. I also want them to consider purchasing life insurance to help cover the funeral costs, because they aren’t cheap. Another thing I suggest they do is figure out what they want on their headstone. We don’t have a headstone for Alex, yet, because we’re still trying to find one that she would love and that’s hard to do when she’s not there to help pick it out. When you choose to text and drive, you are essentially putting your life at risk, and you aren’t just hurting yourself. You’re hurting all of those that you leave behind—I want everyone to realize the stark reality of what happens to families when their loved ones are killed because of cell phone usage in the car.”
According to Ray LaHood, secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, it took 20 years for 86 percent of the population today to start wearing their seatbelts.
“It simply cannot take that long for cell phone usage in the car to stop, or millions of people will die,” Johnny Mac said.
He may be right. According to Distraction.gov, driving while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37 percent—that’s a big percentage.
There are some options to help drivers eliminate texting while driving. The Browns discussed three phone applications that aid in helping drivers avoid texting while in the car.
This app automatically turns on once the vehicle is going faster than 10 miles per hour. Once the car reaches 10 on the speedometer, the keypad on the cell phone is blocked, so that the driver cannot read a text, send a text or surf the web. Once the car slows down below 10 miles per hour the app turns back off. It will also send an automated response to whomever texted you explaining that you’re driving—the message is customizable, so you can make it say whatever you want it to.
You must turn this app on once you get in your car. Once turned on, the app makes sure you don’t get phone calls, text messages, emails, etc. Once you turn the app off, all of your texts or phone calls you may have received while driving show up on your phone. This app also features a customizable automated response that will be sent to those who have texted you while you were driving.
This app, once turned on, will read your text messages, emails, Facebook chat or tweets from Twitter out loud to you while you’re on the road. You can then determine whether they are important enough to respond to immediately, in which case you can pull over to the side of the road and respond. If you choose not to respond at that moment, a customizable automated response will be sent to those who texted you.
I never met Alex Brown, but I will always remember her, because watching Jeanne Brown struggle through the story of how her daughter died was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a journalist. However, it’s changed my life. I went to their foundation’s website (www.rabfoundation.org), and I signed the pledge to not text and drive. Will you?