FocusDriven: New Crusade Against Distracted Driving

Distracted driving is a growing cause of accidents and fatalities on U.S. roads.

January 18, 2010, 9:28 PM

Jan 19, 2010— -- Do you think it's OK to text and drive? Think again.

Distracted driving is becoming an epidemic in the United States. According to a study just released by the National Safety Council, 28 percent of accidents involve talking or texting on cell phones, and studies have found that drivers who use their cell phones for talking or texting have much slower response times than those who do not, and slower reaction times than people with blood alcohol levels of .08.

Elissa Schee's daughter, 13-year-old Frances "Margay" Schee, was killed in a Florida car accident in 2008 when the driver of a tractor trailer hit her school bus. The bus burst into flames, killing the girl, who was the only student left inside.

"She had a smile for everybody. She just radiated goodness," Schee said of her daughter.

Reinaldo Gonzales, the driver of the truck, told police he was distracted by his cell phone.

Since her daughter's death, Schee has spoken out against distracted driving and helped found the organization FocusDriven, which is also sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

FocusDriven is modeled after Mothers Against Drunk Driving and works to raise awareness about cell-free driving as it tries to put human faces on the consequences of distracted driving.

"We're addicted," FocusDriven CEO and co-founder Jennifer Smith said today on "GMA." "We didn't think about how dangerous it could be ... a lot of people think, 'I'm fine.'"

Smith, whose mother was killed in September 2008 by a distracted driver, said, "Our brains just can't handle" texting or talking while driving.

FocusDriven will work to provide "a place for victims and victims' families to join together to put a face to this tragedy," Smith said."These are real families and real lives being taken."

Her hope is that once people realize how dangerous it is, "that's when the laws are going to change and the behaviors are going to change."

CLICK HERE for more information on FocusDriven.

Distracted Cell Phone Use Also Endangers Pedestrians

FocusDriven's quest caught the attention of a very powerful voice: Oprah Winfrey.

In her show Monday, Winfrey took on the problem of distracted driving. She made a public appeal, asking viewers to "give up something that you probably do several times a day."

She even confronted a texting driver who killed two fathers while they were on their way to work. The driver said he "felt terrible" about what had happened.

In 2009, figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that drivers younger than 24 were the worst offenders, but the trend is catching on among all ages.

The NHTSA said that in 2008, drivers' inattention resulted in nearly 6,000 deaths and about 500,000 injuries. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, and seven ban the use of hand-held cell phones while driving, but advocates -- including Schee -- are calling for a national ban on all cell phone use behind the wheel.

Talking and texting isn't just dangerous for drivers. Last year, more than 1,000 pedestrians who were distracted by their cell phones ended up in emergency rooms, according to the NHTSA.

"Good Morning America" spotted numerous distracted pedestrians in downtown Washington, D.C. After a brief check of the street, one woman who was texting walked into the crosswalk -- even though the light was still green to oncoming traffic.

Asked if she wasn't worried about being hit by a car, the woman said, "Sometimes, yeah."

Another texter who was almost run over by a white Jeep said he realized he could have been hit.

"I don't want to think about it," he said.

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" Web site.

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