SGT. 1ST CLASS BRANDON RENNER
4th Battalion, 160th Special
Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
I was driving on my usual route. Since I didn’t have physical training that morning, my commute was during daylight hours, which I figured would be much safer. I had no idea what danger lay ahead.
I had driven this way to work for months, so I was comfortable with my route, which was a two-lane road with a limited shoulder and 50-mph speed limit. Besides the time difference, the only thing out of the ordinary was the school bus traffic on the road. Normally, I was already at work before the buses started running.
I was happy to see that a school bus was behind me. That meant I wouldn’t be caught behind the multiple stops along this five-mile stretch of road. What I didn’t realize, however, was this posed a danger I had yet to identify. The school bus stops were a few yards off the shoulder. But since the bus was behind me, the children were moving toward the street in anticipation of boarding their ride to school.
I was on my way to the gym to work out with a buddy before we went in to work. As I drove, he texted me, “Headed to the gym.” I looked down, read the message and responded that I was also on my way by texting, “OMW.”
The sound of my truck’s tires rustling against the edge of the road snapped me back to reality. When I looked up, I saw the faces of those children waiting for the bus over my dashboard just 20 or so feet away. I abruptly corrected and regained traction with the road without harming one of those innocent children. The frightened look in their eyes will be engrained in my mind forever.
About a mile up the road, I had to pull off to regain my composure. I can honestly say I had never been so scared in my life. The thoughts after avoiding such a catastrophe ran though my head throughout the rest of the day and into the night. I am the father of two beautiful little girls for whom I live my life to protect. Those children at the bus stop were someone else’s treasures. That morning, answering a text had been more important to me than their safety.
At any given daylight moment, there are 660,000 drivers in the United States using their cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Studies reveal that texting while driving makes a driver 23 times more likely to crash. A texting driver also spends 400 percent more time with their eyes off the road. Studies show that just reading a text takes a driver’s eyes off the road for about five seconds. At the speed I was driving (55 mph), I could have traveled the length of a football field in five seconds. Since I responded to the text, though, my eyes were off the road much longer than five seconds.
My actions would have affected many lives had I injured or killed one of those children at the bus stop. We owe it to ourselves, families and everyone we share the road with to devote our full attention to driving. I failed to do that and am fortunate it didn’t result in a senseless loss of life.FYI
For much of the country, the new school year begins in mid- to late August. The National Safety Council urges motorists to put safety first when operating their vehicles in school zones and near bus stops. For more back-to-school safety tips for drivers, visit the NSC’s website at http://www.nsc.org/learn/safety-knowledge/Pages/back-to-school-safety-tips-for-drivers.aspx