Greg LaVallee

Greg LaVallee talked about the widespread problem of distracted driving in a presentation Thursday at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Elk River. His son, Phillip, was killed by a distracted driver in 2013 in Otsego. Photo by Joni Astrup

Distracted driving kills nine people in the United States every day, and injures another 1,000.

“This is not a small problem. This is a big, big problem,” said Greg LaVallee, of Otsego.

LaVallee knows the anguish behind the numbers. On Aug. 8, 2013, his 19-year-old son, Phillip, was killed by a distracted driver as he ran along County Road 19 in Otsego. Since then LaVallee has worked with his wife, Amy, to change driving attitudes and habits and raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.

Greg LaVallee speaks to community groups, businesses and driver’s education classes. He brought his message to Elk River on Thursday, May 30, speaking at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church.

“It should be mandatory that people hear his story. We owe this man a lot,” said Kevin O’Connell, a driver’s education teacher in the Elk River Area School District who introduced LaVallee. He said LaVallee has played a key role in passage of legislation like the Hands Free bill.

LaVallee is a founding member of Just Drive Inc., an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to the deadly epidemic of distracted driving. LaVallee said they hope to make distracted driving socially unacceptable.

Distracted driving causes more than half of teen crashes.

That being said, it’s not just a teen problem. People of all ages drive distracted, he said.

He defines distracted driving as anything that takes a driver’s mind or eyes off the road. It includes texting while driving, but can also include eating, grooming, talking on the phone and many other things.

He noted that driving is the one thing most people do every day that can potentially kill someone.

“Distracted driving is probably the most selfish choice you can make,” he said.

It can have lasting consequences.

For LaVallee and his wife, one of the hardest parts of losing their son is never knowing what his future would have held.

“Phillip had his whole life ahead of him,” Amy said in a video that Greg played during his presentation. “And the worst part of all of this is we’ll never know what he would have accomplished, what he would have done and where he would be.”

Phillip was a standout runner at Monticello High School and got a Division I scholarship to run at South Dakota State University. He had aspirations of running in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Meanwhile, Greg LaVallee highlighted not only his son’s story, but showed photos of other victims of distracted driving and talked about the circumstances that led to their deaths.

One was a young woman and daughter of a friend of his. She was hit in a crosswalk by a 56-year-old man who was programming his GPS.

Every single crash caused by distracted driving is preventable, LaVallee said.

“The solution is right there in front of us all. It’s just simply paying attention while we are driving,” he said.

Who texts while driving? Perhaps surprisingly, it isn’t teens who are the worst offenders.

Rather, it’s drivers age 25 to 39. Forty-five percent of them reported texting while driving compared to 31 percent of 16 to 18 year olds, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

LaVallee said the average text takes 4.6 seconds and a car going 55 mph will travel the length of a football field in that time.

People are 23 times more likely to get into a crash when texting, compared to four times more likely while driving drunk with a blood alcohol level of .08, he said.

To curb distracted driving, LaVallee advises people to not let those they care about drive distracted. Other tips include preparing before leaving home by eating, drinking and grooming at home rather than in the car, turning off the cell phone and placing it out of reach in the vehicle and adjusting the radio and climate controls before driving.

Who texts while driving?

16 to 18 years old ........................................ 31%

19 to 24 years old .........................................42%

25 to 39 years old ........................................ 45%

40 to 59 years old ........................................ 24%

Source: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 2013

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