ST. GEORGE — Not long after the 2013 motor-pedestrian accident that took the life of David Henson, of St. George, and severely injured his wife, Leslee Henson, their grandson was getting a ride from a coach who was texting and driving. Knowing that it was a texting driver who caused his family’s heartache, Cole Warner bravely spoke up and told his coach that he shouldn’t do that.
A similar scene played out when the Hensons’ nephew was getting a ride to work from his boss, who started texting while driving. But instead of listening to his passenger, the driver just kept texting.
“Even after he heard the story of what happened to us, he didn’t put the phone down,” Leslee Henson said. “So my nephew found a new job.”
These experiences were a catalyst for the Henson family — who, after their tragic experience, had already become advocates for stricter cellphone laws and distracted driving awareness — to begin the “Speak Up!” campaign.
“Young kids riding in our cars have a right to be safe, and we don’t want them to learn from our bad habits,” Leslee Henson said. “They can also be a big influence on parents and older siblings. We want them to know that their voice matters when it comes to texting and driving.”
The Henson family, in conjunction with Dixie Regional Medical Center, the Intermountain Foundation at Dixie Regional, Dixie High School executive council and Kohl’s Cares, will be promoting “Speak Up!” at the Washington County Fair Aug. 12-15. The “Speak Up!” booth will include fun giveaways, a photo booth and a chance to win a Kohl’s gift card for signing a pledge not to drive distracted or let others drive distracted. Kids, teens and families are encouraged to stop by the booth.
Aimed specifically at empowering younger children, “Speak Up!” allows kids to have a voice in their own safety, and the campaign plants seeds that will take effect when the next generation gets behind the wheel.
“I have five kids, and I’m always running all over the place,” Haley Warner, the Hensons’ daughter, said. “I understand that it’s a huge temptation to look at a text when you hear that phone ding. But, when I think of everything we do every day as parents to protect our kids and keep them safe, why would I put them in a high-speed car and then close my eyes and turn off my brain?”
The average time it takes to look at a cellphone is an estimated five seconds, which may seem insignificant, but in a car traveling 55 mph, that is enough time to travel the length of a football field.
“What we want everyone to realize is it’s just not worth it!” Haley Warner said. “Nothing is that important, and those few seconds can change your life forever.”
Seeking to stem the tide of injury and death related to distracted driving, a statewide law went into effect in May 2014, making it illegal to manipulate a cellphone while driving. Still, the incidence of texting-while-driving accidents has continued to increase, and the most susceptible age group has proven to be drivers under the age of 20.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that younger, tech-savvy drivers make up 27 percent of distracted drivers in fatal crashes, and they also make up the largest portion of distracted drivers. Possibly more alarming are the results of a poll by the Ad Council, showing that 42 percent of this age demographic said they are very or somewhat confident they can safely text while driving.
“We want kids to grow up seeing this as a danger, and so we need to start before they can drive,” Haley Warner said.
Ultimately, along with educating the public about the dangers of texting and driving, the Henson family is pushing for Utah to follow suit with the 14 other states that have passed hands-free-while-driving phone laws.
“I understand that we don’t like to be told what to do,” Leslee Henson said. “I don’t like to be told what to do. But when our actions take away others’ freedoms and others’ lives, then it’s the right thing to do.”
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