Put down your phone and pay attention to the road. That’s one of the messages traffic safety officials are trying to drive home. Like many drivers, WANE 15’s Terra Brantley has been directly impacted by distracted drivers. She was involved in a crash at Van Buren and West Wayne Streets in July 2018. While on her way to work she was hit when another driver ran a stop sign. Her car was totaled. She and the other driver walked away unharmed, but many people do not.
Fort Wayne resident Lindsey Durnell was involved in a crash on November 15, 2015 that left her in critical condition. “I was in Van Wert and as I was leaving a rodeo I was on my phone,” said Durnell. “I was mapquesting where to go to get to a tavern and not paying attention to the traffic or anything. I pulled out right in front of a semi and he came and t-boned me and pushed me all the way into a ditch.”
“I was in critical condition. My face was so swollen and bruised. They had to airlift me to Parkview North hospital where my amazing surgeon Dr. Luga had to do my 8 hour surgery.”
Doctor Mulokozi Lugakingira is an oral maxillofacial surgeon in Fort Wayne. His patients call him Dr. Luga. “We started at about 1 or 2 in the afternoon,” said Dr. Luga. “We finished close to midnight. It was one of the most involved surgeries I’ve ever performed.”
“We’ve been just working on stuff with my mouth now,” said Durnell. “He’s been removing wires out of my mouth and he’s been pulling teeth. It’s a miracle I survived.”
Human error and distracted driving are the biggest factors in motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last year nationwide, more than 37,000 people died in crashes. A small drop from the previous year is credited with some states having laws that prohibit drivers from using hand held phones. Indiana’s distracted driving law does not have a hands-free provision.
In the first six months of this year, the Hoosier state saw a 10% drop in the number of motor vehicle fatalities compared to last year, but the busy summer travel season and holiday season have not yet been factored in.
Fort Wayne Police Lieutenant Tony Maze has been covering fatal crashes since 1994. He said the number of overall collisions in the state remains high. In Allen County alone there were 10,162 crashes from January 1st through Oct 1st of this year. Lt. Maze believes that number would go down if Indiana’s distracted driving law was modified to make drivers put down their phones altogether.
“The law is put together strictly for texting,” said Lt. Maze. “You can check you mail, you can check iTunes, you can populate songs, you can be on your phone because Indiana’s not a hands-free state. There are also so many other things beyond texting that lead to distractions but testing in and of itself is difficult for an officer to enforce.”
“We had some discussions about the law in our last session and over the summer,” said Indiana State Representative Phil GiaQuinta (D) Fort Wayne. GiaQuinta is working to make the law easier to enforce. “I think there are 11 other states that have a law that says totally hands-free. Under that you are not allowed to be driving in your car with your device in your hand.”
Durnell isn’t waiting to see if the state will mandate a hands-free law. Since her accident she’s made a personal mandate to keep her hands on the wheel, her eyes on the road and stay off her phone while driving.
“Yes, for sure,” she said. “It’s not worth it. Don’t text and drive. Don’t even call and drive. It’s not worth it. You’re still distracted. You’re still on your phone. Something could happen and it will happen. Just because you think you’re invincible doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you because it will.”