About 1,000 people are injured and nine people are killed each day in the U.S. in crashes involving a distracted driver. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Mark Cournoyer, a funeral director in Jaffrey who is committed to reducing the number of deaths caused by distracted driving.
(Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)
What efforts are you taking to educate people and prevent them from distracted driving?
Well the main thing I do is visit a couple of our local driver’s education classes, and take some time to speak with the soon-to-be-new drivers in our state. And [I] just try to share my experiences not only here at the funeral home, but from my previous experiences from law enforcement EMS. And [I] try to help them understand how to make a good choice when it comes time to get behind the wheel, and how not to drive distracted, whether it’s eating food, or texting and driving or things of that nature.
You say you’ve been a first responder in a previous career. You’ve been a funeral director now for a while. What made you want to take up this cause?
Well, I was introduced to the program that Federated Insurance and the National Funeral Directors Association joined together on back in 2012. And coincidentally that was when my daughter had started her driver’s education class, and we had already had a funeral for someone as a result of distracted driving. And it was a great way to become involved with her education about driving.
And can you tell us about some of the things you tell those students when you’re talking to them? What are some of the things that you’ve seen in your career?
We’ve had several funerals already. Several families needed our assistance after deaths caused by distracted driving—some with cell phones, some from taking a sip of a cup of coffee, you know other distractions as well. But those are the most vivid stories I share with the kids, just to share with them the reality of the consequences that can come about from distracted driving.
Obviously phones are a major problem in the car. I personally see people every day on my commute driving, looking at their phones still. But you’ve said that there are lots of other distractions that don’t receive enough attention.
Correct. It could be just another passenger in the car that you’re conversing with. That could be food. I’ve seen folks putting on makeup. I’ve seen folks reading. The traffic might be moving slowly in a traffic jam. It’s still no reason to take your mind off what you’re doing.
I think there’s a temptation at stop lights and when you’re in traffic to quickly glance at your phone, and I think that can be a dangerous start right there.
Yes, and these cars that are coming out nowadays are making it much [easier] to be distracted. My wife has a new Subaru with eyesight technology that she gets a little notification if a car in front of her moves ahead at a stoplight. And so it’s not like the manufacturers are helping dissuade folks from doing things. They’re helping folks to be able to do things it seems.
I wonder too when you talk to younger people who are just getting their license, is there a feeling of invincibility as if this isn’t going to happen to me? This is not going to be a problem to me?
I don’t get that feeling from the students. You get that after they’ve been driving for 6 or 8 months, and I’ve seen that in my own children. And I’m just in a unique position to be able to continue to share the reality of death and the worst possible outcome of their actions.