Learning From Tragedy: Police Aim to Curb Distracted Driving

Local authorities—and far-flung police—aim to stop preventable accidents.

Amanda Kloehr doesn't remember what exactly caused her car to smash into the back of a stopped semi on a New Jersey highway in 2008.

"It could have been texting, talking on the phone, using the radio or working the windows," Kloehr, 24-years-old, said Monday morning above the din of the New York State Thruway in southern Yonkers.

What Kloehr does recall are the 20 surgeries it took recover from the accident, and the snapped ankle and plastic eye she now lives with every day.

Kloehr spoke out just off I-87 Monday about the dangers of distracted driving. Her warning to drivers of all ages comes just as police around the nation kick off an initiative to curb the dangerous—and sometimes fatal—habit.

"All the states will be enacting a high visibility campaign targeting distracted driving behaviors," explained Mark Savage, a Major with Colorado State Police, shortly after Kloehr shared her story. "It's over the next seven days."

The continent-wide "Operation Safe Driver Week" officially began Sunday, Oct. 14, and will run through Oct. 20. The initiative focuses on the basic rules of the road, how to navigate around larger vehicles, how to stamp out aggressive behavior, and distracted driving.

Savage, also president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), noted text messaging is not the only cause of distracted driving, however.

"It can be eating, grooming, talking on the phone—any type of behavior that distracts you from your primary focus," Savage said.

"If we don't change the behavior, we're going to be dealing with a lot more than a plastic eye and a snapped ankle," Kloehr added, a message especially aimed at teenage drivers. A recent survey revealed that 58-percent of high school seniors and 43-percent of juniors had sent text messages or emails while behind the wheel, just in the previous month.

Kloehr's accident marries one of the road's most dangerous aspects—distracted driving—with another hazard: tractor trailers. Nearly 4,000 people are killed and another 100,000 others are injured in truck and bus crashes on the nation's highways each year, most of which are preventable, officials said Monday.

Savage noted police in the Lower Hudson Valley, along with forces through the U.S., Canada and Mexico, will step up enforcement this week. Ticketing will also be coupled with a public service announcement blitz.


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