We've all seen it: drivers who are talking on their cell phones, or texting, behind the wheel. Despite laws in many states that prohibit drivers from using handheld mobile devices, distracted driving kills nine people every day in the United States and injures 1,000 more.
So today, as part of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the Auto Club of Southern California is launching a new, multi-year initiative. The goal is to make texting while driving as socially unacceptable as alcohol-impaired driving.
Dawn and Howard Mauer, of Orange County, have personally experienced the devastating consequences of distracted driving. They lost their daughter Deanna to a crash on the 405 freeway on April 27, 2011. They're part of the new Auto Club campaign. Here's their story.
"Deanna was a special girl," Dawn Mauer said. "She loved to make jokes and make people laugh. She played softball since she was in T-ball all the way through college. She was coaching girls and she loved coaching. She'd get out on the field with them and she'd run right with them and do their laps. She was looking forward to going back to school and becoming a university coach for softball."
"She called me," Dawn continued. "She was off work, and I said, 'What are you going to do?' And she said, 'I'm going to go have fun.' And I said, 'OK, I love you,' and that was it. That was the last thing we said to each other."
"This nurse just said that they had somebody that wasn't speaking. I said, 'Why are you asking me this?' And she said we needed some identification, so I told her about Deanna's tattoos and they said that's her and I had a feeling it was bad. I was at work and Howard, my husband, was at work as well, so I just called him and said Deanna's in the hospital. We've got to go."
"She called me screaming that day, so I knew we had to get down to UCI Medical Center," Howard Mauer said. "The California Highway Patrol officer met us outside with Deanna's purse and blatantly told us that her cell phone was in her purse. She wasn't on her cell phone."
"We went up to the floor she was on and thereafter Identified her as our daughter," Howard continued. "We thought they were going to take her into surgery, but they told us she was brain dead. She was hit really hard from behind, and it did severe damage to her and we knew at that point that she couldn't be saved."
"They tried to explain what was wrong," Dawn said. "I didn't understand what they were saying. I wasn't getting it. I was in shock and not really understanding anything. I went in and saw her and I just knew it was bad and never got a chance to talk to her or anything."
"Everything was happening so fast," Howard added." It was really hard to comprehend that she was here. I talked to her that morning and she was completely gone. I almost felt like she was erased from this earth."
"We learned that the traffic was stopped on the 405 freeway in Westminster, and she was rear ended. We learned this lady had been on her phone. This is what was told to us from people on the scene. She was injured from rear ending our daughter and was crawling on her hands and knees to try and get back into her car to put her phone back together."
"They pulled the black box from her car, so they could tell what the throttle was set at. She was going over 87 mph. She didn't steer to the left or right, and they knew she never hit the brakes," Howard continued. "I was very mad at her for not coming forth and telling the truth in the beginning. It was determined through Sprint that there were 14 text messages sent between her and another person up until impact. It was her boyfriend. It took us two trials and four years to go through this. She was texting while driving."
"What has happened to Deanna can't be changed, but it can be relayed to others this can happen to you. We learn to live with life now. It's not the same, but every day. Every day she's in my mind. I think of her 24/7."
"I miss her voice every day coming through the day saying, 'Hi mom. I'm home,' Dawn said. "She was my light."