Women Who Inspire Us :: Pat Ralls

Pat Ralls of Stop Phoning and Driving - In Memory of Brian Ralls

Have you ever met someone whose story is so inspirational you are moved to be a better person?  We have and we want to share with you some of those stories. This post is our first of many featuring women who inspire us.

About two months ago, we were making our weekly calls to customers who had merchandise requests letting them know that the items they wanted had come in. After one of the calls, I heard someone say, “that was an interesting voice mail. She said she turns her phone off when she drives and she would return the call when she isn’t driving.” I said, “you were calling Pat Ralls, weren’t you?”

In 2009, Pat's son, Brian, was killed in a car wreck caused by a distracted driver.  Whether we knew him or not, we grieved as a community for the loss of Brian.  Brian is the first person I think of when I see someone texting and driving. Then I immediately think of his parents, Doug and Pat, and his sister, Emily, and their determination to stop distracted driving – all in memory and love of Brian and their commitment that no one else loses a loved one from a completely preventable accident.

It is a great challenge facing all of us that doesn't seem to be going away.  Earlier this summer, 7 year old Hayes Springer of Brentwood was killed when the car he was riding in was rear ended by a distracted driver.  And now, with Pokemon Go raging in popularity, it seems that the task of staying focused on the road is becoming near impossible.

Vignette wanted to highlight Pat's phenomenal work within the community, as she fights tirelessly to extend and heighten awareness about distracted driving and its perils. We spoke with Pat about ways we drive distracted and what the best measures are in order to enlighten ourselves and others when it comes to distracted driving.

Vignette: How important is it for people to curb the prevalence of distracted driving?

Pat Ralls: How important is YOUR life, that of a loved one, or that of a stranger?  There are tens of thousands of examples every year of people who have died or been seriously injured because someone didn't think it was important.

Most people do not realize that simply TALKING on your phone provides the same level of distraction as a .08 blood alcohol content.  Texting is equivalent to a .16 BAC.  Once you realize this, hopefully you can see how important it is to simply put the phone down while driving.

It is impossible to drive today without seeing many instances of distracted drivers.  Cars drifting in lanes other than their own, people not proceeding on green lights because they are still busy answering an email or sending a text, and the list goes on. If you are also on your own phone, you are greatly diminishing your chances of being able to react to all the other horrible drivers by whom you are surrounded.

Do methods like Bluetooth or "hands free" phone use help decrease the likelihood of distracted driving?  

Hands-free driving is still distracted driving, because it's about what your BRAIN is doing.  Despite common misconceptions, you cannot and should not multi-task when it comes to operating a vehicle.  There is much research and science behind this.  If you are curious and want to learn more, google "inattention blindness" or "cognitive distraction".  The research and data are there, but the will to change is not.

Are there any other modes of distracted driving that aren't cell phone related?  

There are many ways to be distracted while driving.  It has been proven to be extremely distracting to have a buzzing insect inside of your car.  It is extremely distracting to be transporting a casserole to Grandma's house and have it fall on the floor.  But let's compare how often those things happen vs. how often we use a phone while driving. There simply is no comparison.  We as a society have become addicted to using our phones wherever and whenever we want to.

Have there been any developments in the journey to establish effective legislation with regard to distracted driving?

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have banned the use of handheld devices while driving.  There are very stiff penalties for non-compliance.  More states are considering such a ban.  Unfortunately, the State of Tennessee, despite being one of the deadliest states in which to drive, and despite being tied for first place in the number of teen driving deaths, failed to pass similar legislation.  In fact, the bill was simply killed by one individual after it had passed through the Transportation Committee.  The "answer" we are given is that people don't want their liberties taken away, and/or don't want to be told by the government what to do.  My question then becomes, "What happened to Brian's liberties?"  We have many laws that serve to protect us, and a law against the use of a handheld device while driving should be one of them.

What's the best course of action someone can take to try and help better distracted driving legislation become a reality?  

This really is an uphill battle, as mentioned above.  The political will is NOT there.  We testified at the State Capitol and I was disheartened beyond words by the attitudes of some of our legislators.  I always wonder if they would feel the same if it were their loved one who was killed.

We have a Facebook page, "Stop Phoning and Driving-In Memory of Brian", where we post updates on legislation and how you might impact this important issue. But one thing we have to realize......even the states that have much better laws still have distracted driving deaths.  What is needed is that every one of us take personal responsibility to stop using our phones in our car for any purpose.  This IS doable, and made easier by apps you can get if you don't have the self-discipline to leave the phone alone.  If you are able to put your phone away or turn it off while driving, you will have a totally different driving experience.

Tell us a little bit about the Brian Ralls Memorial Scholarship - what do you look for in a potential recipient?  

The Brian Ralls Memorial Scholarship is administered through the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and is given to a graduating senior at Brentwood Academy.  They look for qualities in the recipient that mirror Brian's attributes.......academic excellence, athletic ability, consummate team player, and all-around awesome individual!  The students selected have pledged to not use their phones while driving, which is a way to honor Brian's life and theirs.

What outlets can people access to learn more about distracted driving?    

Doug and I have spoken to over 35,000 people in the past six years as part of our mission to educate folks about the dangers of distracted driving.  If anyone wants us to come address their school, church, organization, or business, we have a power point presentation that includes facts and personal information that are effective in introducing the subject.  It takes roughly 20 minutes, and hopefully there would also be time for Q and A. Many have seen us in the Brentwood Traffic Court or Williamson County Juvenile Court, where we present our talk monthly.

Something important to keep in mind:  IT IS ILLEGAL for drivers under 18 years old to use their cell phone in any way while driving.  If ticketed, 6 points go against the driving record.  Very few parents are aware of this law.

If you would like to learn more about the dangers of distracted driving, try these sites:

www.distraction.gov

http://www.enddd.org/research-stats/#r5

You can also reference Pat Rall's Facebook page "Stop Phoning and Driving-In Memory of Brian".

Turning off your phone while driving seems like such a simple thing to do and yet, we don't.  It is our hope that Pat's story encourages and reminds us that we can all be part of the solution to end distracted driving.

This blog post is dedicated to the beautiful women among us who inspire and teach us to be more than we are.

NewsElly Jones