Don’t take your eyes off the road, even for a second.
That was the message Christina Dempsey told Culpeper County High School and Eastern View High School driver’s education classes at the end of April, during a visit promoted by Drive Smart Virginia.
Dempsey knows all too well the pain of distracted driving.
On Aug. 27, 2013, a truck driver who took his eyes off the road to check directions slammed into the back of a car in Millersville, Md. The crash killed Dempsey’s sister, Bethany Dempsey; her sister’s 14-year-old daughter, Lauren White; and the daughter of her sister’s fiancé, 8-year-old Abigail Cullen.
During the week of April 23 Dempsey spoke to CCHS and EVHS students to tell them of the personal impact of just looking down at your phone or shuffling papers can cause. The driver that crashed into her sister’s car was coming off an on ramp and took his eyes off the road for an estimated 12 seconds. Often, distracted driving averages just three seconds of taking your eyes off the road.
Dempsey said she has shared her story about 50 times a year and students often respond to her testimony.
“A lot of them just come up and hug you,” Dempsey said. “Or they come up and ask more in depth questions or they share their own story.”
Dempsey, a paid firefighter/EMS worker, said that despite her training she could never have been prepared for the pain of suffering of losing three people that she loved.
“Nothing would ever prepare me for that,” Dempsey said. “When it’s your family, all the training is gone.”
The daughter of King George Sheriff Steve Dempsey has made thousands of memorial ribbons featuring green, purple and animal stripes—colors and a pattern favored by her sister and the two girls.
Following Dempsey’s speech, students from the Eastern View driver’s ed classes went outside and tried out the Drive Smart Virginia distracted driving truck – having a virtual reality helmet put over their head to simulate driving and then were asked to text while looking down at their phone. Many failed.
“I think it’s really helping them understand how important it is really is a life or death situation,” Kristin Pettway, Senior Project Manager for Drive Smart Virginia said. “It’s a big responsibility. We do a lot of activities that are interactive and that can be fun, so it’s good to have someone like Christina here to bring them back and tell them this is very serious.”
Fifteen states, along with Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Virginia does not have an all-out ban. It’s one of 47 states that prohibits drivers of all ages from text messaging.