“It’s a big day and it’s a big deal, and we’re just delighted,” Teater said the recommendation to ban cell phone talking, texting and hands-free devices for drivers.
It will be eight years ago next month that Teater was driving her 12-year-old son, Joe, to an after-school event. The Teater family lived in Grand Rapids at the time. As Judy piloted the family Suburban west on Knapp Street through the East Beltline Avenue intersection at Knapp’s Corner, a Hummer ran the southbound red light and T-boned the Teater car, crushing the passenger side with Joe’s young body inside.
The 20-year-old driver was talking on her cell phone. Witnesses said she was looking straight ahead, and passed several cars and a school bus stopped in the adjacent lane, but she never acknowledged the red light and never touched her brakes.
The impact crushed Joe’s chest. He died at the hospital 12 hours later.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it,” said Judy, who moved to a Spring Lake Township condominium with her husband, David, in 2006 so they wouldn’t have to relive the pain of that northeast Grand Rapids intersection in their daily travels.
Since that tragic January day, the Teaters have become advocates against distracted driving. David works on the National Safety Council out of Chicago. Judy is secretary/treasurer of FocusDriven, an organization formed in 2009 to promote cell phone-free driving. All of FocusDriven’s board members have lost loved ones to distracted driving.
“It suddenly feels like we’re a little closer,” Teater said of the NTSB recommendation, which she hopes leads to distracted driving bans in all 50 states. “The NTSB is not a government entity. They’re not political. They’re a bunch of scientists and a bunch of people who take transportation safety seriously.
“Because the organization is independent, people will listen,” she added. “I think a lot more people will take a harder look at distracted driving.”
According to a study released last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at any given daylight moment, 13.5 million drivers are using hand-held phones. Distracted drivers were responsible for 3,092 roadway fatalities in 2010, according to the NHTSA study.
The year prior, there were more than 5,000 deaths and a half-million injuries at the hands of distracted drivers, according to federal Department of Transportation statistics.
Michigan prohibits texting while driving. Currently, there are no state laws against talking on a mobile device while behind the wheel.
Judy Teater said prior to the crash that claimed her child’s life, even she did not realize the dangers of using a cell phone while driving.
“We do now, and we need to stop this,” she said. “Joe’s death was so senseless. He lost his life because somebody had to make a phone call.
“It’s more difficult than an illness,” Judy added. “Accidental deaths are one thing, but this was a deliberate thing. She chose to be on her cell phone.”
Judy said it’s time to act unselfishly and silence the cell while on the street.
“I think the sentiment has changed significantly,” she said. “I think a lot of people out there think this is a really bad practice and we need laws to stop this. Hopefully, with a major organization like this coming out against it, we’ll all start taking a stronger look at it. Our lawmakers have to listen.”