A note from Car Talk Plaza: through mutual friends, we were recently put in touch with Jacy Good, the victim of a distracted driver. Jacy’s sharing her story in hopes that you’ll think twice before reaching for that ringing cell phone, or texting a friend, when you’re behind the wheel. We also hope you’ll share her story with others, too — and thanks, all of of us at Car Talk Plaza.
Car Talk: Your life was changed by a distracted driver. What happened?
Jacy: My parents and I were driving home from my college graduation in May 2008. It was a routine ride we’d done countless times without incident. A young man who was driving while talking on his cell phone went through a red light to make a left turn at a busy intersection, likely suffering from inattention blindness. The resulting accident left both my parents dead and me clinging to life. Had it not been for a paramedic who lived near the scene and ran toward the awful crash he heard, I would have died at the scene too.
It took two trauma teams more than 8 hours of surgery to put me back together, but still no one knew if I’d make it through the first 24 hours, let alone resume any kind of normal life. I still suffer from the effects of the traumatic brain injury, but thankfully, have lost very little cognitive function. However this injury has left me with virtually no function in my left arm and requiring a brace on my left leg. It wasn’t until four months later, in August, when it finally sunk in that mom and dad were gone. My family and friends had been telling me multiple times a day for several weeks but I repeatedly told them they weren’t funny and they made terrible jokes.
Car Talk: How did you decide to become an activist?
Jacy: I was raised to believe in the old axiom: If you’re not part of the solution then you’re just part of the problem. Even though my parents yelled at me the one time I picked up my phone while I was driving and I never did it again, I knew I had the ability to make a change. I was amazed and excited that despite my brain injury causing memory problems in my early recovery, I had no trouble finding and remembering the God-awful statistics about accidents caused by distracted drivers. People are having their bodies ripped to shreds and it is, in a word, preventable.
From the first few words I said when I could speak again it seemed no matter who I talked to, my story resonated. People who’d never met me communicated that they’d stopped using their cell phones while driving after reading my story. I trusted that if I could change one person’s mind, that the ripple effect would go on and on. It has to be the reason this horrific experience happened to me. My parents can’t have died for nothing. It’s simply not possible for me to embrace that.
Car Talk: We’ve noticed a number of public service ads featuring families who have been affected by similar tragedies. It seems like the word is getting out. Have you noticed a change in people’s views on driving and texting/talking since you became involved in the movement?
Jacy: I think it is slowly starting to sink in. Many people talk the talk, but aren’t yet walking the walk. In any case, maybe it’s just my wishful thinking, but it really does seem like I’m seeing fewer people yakking away while behind the wheel. But the fact that so many people are changing their behavior makes it all the more frustrating that the remaining offenders still think they’re above the danger.
Car Talk: After your accident, you’ve sometimes worn a sign that said “My handicaps are from a kid talking on his cell phone while driving. Please, HANG UP AND DRIVE”. That’s a very intense message. How did people react? Do you still wear the sign?
Jacy: I was a 22-year-old with a terrible limp, walking with a cane and a brace on half my leg, scars everywhere, and a useless left arm. People stared. I could see they wanted to know what happened to me and realized it was the perfect opportunity to make a statement. I wanted people to know how much power each of them has to destroy a life when behind the wheel of a car.
I’ve gotten many responses to it, all of them positive. A surprising number of people thank me for sharing. The sign is still on my back whenever it’s sweater or coat weather. I’ve also added the line “the other two people in the car were killed.” I don’t specify that it was my parents because I don’t want the pity party. I just want changed behavior.
Car Talk: Each of us tends to think she’s a great driver and multi-tasker, but studies have shown that drivers who are texting are actually more dangerous than drivers who are legally drunk, and cell phone users are about as dangerous as a legally drunk driver. It’s hard for people to make the connection between driving distracted and the potentially devastating consequences.
What do you think it will take for people to realize that this is a life and death matter?
Jacy: I am saddened by my own response to this question, because I think it will only have an impact on people if they are in some way directly affected by a distracted driving accident. By my calculation, there are more than 2,000 people whose lives were in some way impacted by my accident. Those are only the ones I know about through letters, social networking, phone calls, and articles.
I choose to see that as good news: word travels fast in the electronic age and this kind of epidemic will hopefully be recognized and dealt with more quickly than one might expect. At the current rate of deaths and injuries, it won’t be long until the ripple effect has touched nearly everyone. I can only hope that more people change their behavior as a result of being farther out in the ripple rather than waiting until they’re in my situation, or maybe worse, the young man who caused the accident.
Car Talk: How is your recovery going? It sounds like you’re making great progress and have a good support network of friends and family.
Jacy: I am making very slow, but very steady progress. It’s a lot of work. It’s going to be a lifelong effort, including more surgeries, compromises and adjustments to accommodate my permanent handicaps. I have an amazing support group of family, old friends, and new friends. Considering my circumstances I am upbeat and enjoying the process of finding my place in this world, like any 24-year-old.
Car Talk: You sound like you have a really busy life! Do you have any free time between physical therapy and your activism? What do you do in what little free time you have?
Jacy: I spend a part of every day actively broadening awareness of the perils of distracted driving. I am not yet healthy enough for a “real job,” but too much downtime can make me sad, so I make an effort to keep myself busy. I love to be outdoors, and regularly hike at some of the easier nearby trails, and I’m always in the middle of at least two books. Environmentalism has always been my main passion, so I spend time reading the latest Sierra Club news on the internet, and playing “brain training” games on various websites. I can travel many places independently now so I spend a lot of time on the road visiting friends from high school and college scattered all over the country. I go where I’m invited and stay wherever someone’s got a place to put me up.
Car Talk: You recently appeared on “Oprah” as part of your mission to get the word out. We have to know! What was it like meeting Oprah?
Jacy: I’ve never really watched Oprah so I had no clue what to expect, but she was an incredibly sweet and down to earth woman. She joked with the audience during commercials and was a pretty big goofball when the camera wasn’t on her. She is a very talented woman and talking to her was like talking to an aunt. I never even thought of the millions of people watching!
Car Talk: How can individuals reading this interview help get the word out?
Jacy: I think the best way to put an end to the epidemic is to lead by example. It’s like my recovery: slow and steady really does win the race. Put your phone on silent when you’re in the driver’s seat, and if someone calls you while they’re driving, ask them to call you back when they get to their destination. Don’t be shy! I know it’s very hard, but if you’re riding in a car with someone, tell them you’re uncomfortable with them using their phone while they’re driving.
Car Talk: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
Jacy: There is very substantial research proving that less than 2% of the population is capable of talking on the phone while driving. You’re probably not one of them, meaning your brain isn’t capable of doing more than one thing at a time and jumps back and forth between the tasks. As a result, you’re probably not noticing the possibly grave errors you’re making while driving. In addition, using a headset doesn’t make it any safer. Your hands are on the wheel, but your brain isn’t on the road.
We spend years and millions of dollars finding cures for diseases that wreak havoc. In this case, you and I are the “vaccines” for preventing the devastation caused by distracted driving.
My parents and I were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. It could be anyone at anytime.
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