May 032009
Authors: Michelle Smith

Erica Forney was known for her sense of humor and love of animals. She loved to draw and aspired to be an artist when she grew up.

Erica died at the age of nine due to my inattentiveness while driving.

My name is Michelle. I am 36 years old. On Nov. 25, I accidentally struck Erica Forney with my vehicle as she rode her bicycle home from school. Erica died two days later from her injuries.

Although I do not have a clear memory of the accident, the police tell me I had recently finished a cell phone call and may have been distracted in some way by the call.

I write this letter because I have a responsibility to share my story with others. This situation is one which I believe — had it not happened to me — I would have read about in the newspaper and felt sadness or anger about how a child lost her life and then thought, “I am a careful driver, a good person and this could not or would not happen to me.”

However, such an attitude ignores the statistics and proven increased risks associated with cell phone use while driving.

According to a study titled “Cell Phone Induced Driver Distraction,” D.L. Strayer and F.A. Drews said “recent research indicates that cell phone conversations place demand upon the driver that differ qualitatively from those of other auditory/verbal/vocal tasks commonly performed while operating a motor vehicle. Even when cell phone drivers direct their gaze at objects in the driving environment, they often fail to ‘see’ them because attention has been diverted to the cell phone conversation.”

In an earlier study, “A comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Diver,” the findings by these two researchers were equally as telling.

They found that cell phone drivers are more likely to miss critical traffic signals or a vehicle braking in front of the driver, are slower to respond to the signals that they do detect and are more likely to be involved in rear-end collisions.

In fact, studies suggest that cell phone use is associated with a four-fold increase in the likelihood of getting into an accident, the same increase in risk associated with drunk driving at a .08 percent blood alcohol content.

I hope that you take my story to heart and view this letter as more of a cautionary tale so that the loss of Erica’s precious life may serve to save the lives of many others. Had I appreciated the risk associated with cell phone use while driving, perhaps Erica would still be with us today.

My heart and prayers are and will always be with the Forneys.

Michelle Smith is a resident of Longmont. Letters and feedback can bProxy-Connection: keep-alive

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