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The truth about texting

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 9:29 p.m. MDT

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Editor's note: This article by Rachel Macy Stafford originally appeared on her blog, Hands Free Mama. It has been posted here with permission.

I recently found myself frantically pulling off to the side of the road, steadying my trembling hands, and taking deep calming breaths until my heartbeat regained normal pace.

Never had I felt so certain I was about to die than I had in the two terrifying minutes prior to pulling my car to safety.

On a winding country road, just behind my neighborhood, a young man driving an old Chevy El Camino suddenly appeared around the bend. He was traveling at a dangerously high rate of speed.

For a brief, yet agonizing period of time, I watched him lose control of his car and veer directly into my lane. I saw every agonizing detail of the alarmed expression on his face. Just below his chin, sitting atop his steering wheel and nestled between his hands, was his phone.

While my life flashed before me, all I could think was this: Oh how tragic; the woman who writes about the cost of living a distracted life was killed by a man who was texting and driving.

Miraculously, the driver regained control and swerved back into his lane. My vehicle kicked up rocks along the roadside until it slowed to a stop. I had barely finished a prayer of gratitude when I began spitting words of anger at the young man. But he was now long gone, probably continuing to text with the same agile fingers and careless disregard for human life that he had while coming around the curve.

I am not a violent person; I do not welcome confrontation, but oh how I wanted to grab him by the shirt and shake him vigorously until he heard what I had to say. How dare you! How dare you value a stupid text message over my life?

And then suddenly, it struck me. Those words sounded hauntingly familiar. I had spoken them somewhere before.

Oh, that's right. To myself.

While drowning in my highly distracted life two and a half years ago, I didn't indulge in texting while driving, but I did allow myself to check email at stoplights. I convinced myself that it wasn't like texting and driving at all. I assured myself I was 100 percent focused on driving when the light turned green.

What a joke.

One day, as I was reading an email at a stoplight, the car in the left lane hit the gas and entered the intersection. Because I was multitasking, I carelessly followed his lead and began pressing on the gas. Suddenly, I realized the car next to me had the green left-turn arrow; my light was still red.

In that moment, I realized what I was doing was stupid. I realized what I was doing was wreckless, irresponsible and risky. I realized this "innocent" little habit of mine could cost my children their mother.

That's when I reprimanded myself the way I would have liked to scold the texting driver. I vividly remember this long and painful diatribe:

How can you even think that reading a trivial email message is worth risking the presence of a mother in your children's lives?

Can you imagine whoever would have to break this news to your husband and parents? "I'm sorry, but Rachel was checking email on her phone and accidently drove into the middle of an intersection while the light was red."

Seriously? You are an educated woman. What the heck is wrong with you?

It was the wake-up call I needed. And I only needed it once. Thank heaven, I changed my ways before I lived (or died) to regret that senseless habit. In fact, a day doesn't go by when I don't think about that choice. Every time my daughters and I make our 20-minute trek three times a week to swim practice, I am thankful I changed my dangerous habit.

With my phone turned completely off, conversation flows freely. The three of us cover topics from loose teeth to endangered animals, from school yard bullies to American Girl Dolls and from what it means to go to jail to what it means to go to heaven.

I hear my children's dreams, their fears, their laughter and, yes, sometimes their fighting. I am privy to the stories and questions of their 6- and 9-year-old minds and hearts, stories I wouldn't hear (and may not even occur) if I were tethered to my phone.

But here's the best news of all:

When you turn off the phone and begin to connect with what really matters, like the dreams in your own head, and the conversations of the people in the backseat, you don't even miss your phone. Now there are occasions when I accidently leave home without it because my phone is not what I am connected to anymore.

If meaningful connection doesn't provide enough motivation to abstain from phone usage while driving, consider the fact that your driving habits greatly affect the driving habits of your children. The following excerpt is taken from an article in The Washington Post titled "U.S. teens report 'frightening' levels of texting while driving:"

"At a conference that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood convened to discuss distracted driving, he urged parents to set an example for their children by paying attention to the road.

"But, the report says, 'the frequency of teens reporting parent cellphone use behind the wheel in our focus groups was striking, and suggested, in many cases, that texting while driving is a family affair.'"

Perhaps today marks the day you make new choices when it comes to phone usage while driving. Perhaps today marks the day you turn off the phone and place it in the glovebox while traveling. And perhaps in that one simple action, you will experience a conversation, a song or an inner thought that will remind you just how beautiful and fragile life truly is.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company