On September 23, 2008, thirteen year-old Frances Schee was killed while riding the bus home from North Marion Middle School. The school bus made a routine stop on U.S. 301 when a tractor-trailer rear-ended it just outside of Ocala, pushing the stationary school bus forward 294 feet. The driver of the truck, Reinaldo A. Gonzales, immediately jumped out of his cab before the vehicles stopped; shortly thereafter, both vehicles caught on fire. The cab of the tractor-trailer completely burned, while the back of the school bus incurred significant flame damage and the rear seats were crushed. Rescue workers and bystanders rushed into the burning bus and rescued the children from the flames. Sadly, they could not reach Frances Schee in time.
Shortly after the accident, Mr. Gonzales made two significant statements. He told a fellow truck driver that he did not see the school bus. He also stated that he was using his cell phone immediately before impact.
While the facts and evidence are still being collected, it is not difficult to deduce from Mr. Gonzales’s own statements that he did not see the school bus because he was distracted due to operating his cell phone. The potential dangers of using a cell phone while driving are far from a recent issue. Furthermore, cell phone related motor vehicle accidents have increased at a frightening rate over the past 15 years.
Yet even with these unavoidable facts staring every cell phone user and motorist straight in the face, cell phone usage in the car is more prevalent today than ever before. How many more tragedies like the one outside of Ocala must occur before this issue is taken seriously?
Currently, only five states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that forbid using a hand-held cell phone while operating a motor vehicle (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Washington). And although another 16 states have passed “partial ban” laws, they are mostly toothless, prohibiting a small sect–such as bus drivers or teenagers with learner’s permits–from using a cell phone wile driving. Countries such as Brazil, UK, France, Japan, and Australia have passed strict laws forbidding this practice.
The key to safe driving is focus and the avoidance of distractions. In fact, it has been reported that using a cell phone while driving equates to driving after consuming four alcoholic beverages. This statistic begs the following question: Why is there such a disproportionate amount of concern (and laws) pertaining to drinking and driving as opposed to using a cell phone and driving? Frances was tragically killed because Mr. Gonzales was not focused on driving. His lack of focus, however, was not caused by alcohol or another substance; rather, it was caused by his cell phone.