Scarsdale High School seniors search desperately for parking every morning. And if finding a spot is not hard enough, in order to have the privilege of using the designated senior lots, students must attend a mandatory driver's safety meeting to receive a parking pass. At the meeting, along with signing a pledge to follow the rules of the road and drive safely, a speech was given to alert the students and their parents to the dangers of distracted driving. On Monday night September 16 at the Scarsdale High School auditorium, Jacy Good told the story of her parent's tragic death to the class of 2014.
The speech was preceded by a quick introduction by Principal Kenneth Bonamo. To deter reckless behavior on the roads, Bonamo relayed statistics to the crowd about the percentage of teen deaths brought about by driving accidents (one third) and the increased risk teens face on the road. He told the attendees that on a campus with tight roads, pedestrians, and limited parking, there's the potential for driving accidents which prompted the school to hold explanatory meetings before allowing students to get their parking permits.
After Bonamo's introduction it was Jacy's turn. Jacy runs a movement with her college boyfriend and current fiancé, Steve Johnson to shed light on the frequent use of cellular devices while driving and to lead a social and cultural shift away from their use. Jacy grew up in Amish country but moved to New York after college. However, on her graduation day, as she drove back to her house in Pennsylvania, her life abruptly changed for the worse.
Jacy's memory cuts off at that point in the story and she showed a video of her fiancé to fill in the gap. That day Jacy had not been answering his calls or texts, and the next time he got a call from her it was from a medic. They reported that Jacy had been traumatically and critically injured, and that her parents were dead. Steve and Jacy's brother rushed over and waited for her to get out of an intensive surgery. Her chances of recovery were at a mere 10%. But after two weeksina coma, Jacy finally awakened. Broken bones and organ damage weren't the worst of it, Jacy had significant brain damage and couldn't (and still can't) move the left side of her body. She was barely conscious and unable to form memories, unable to understand her surroundings and living in her own world. "It still shocks me. It's still hard to believe how all of it could have happened in one day, driving back from my graduation ceremony nonetheless," said Jacy when asked about the period of time that was lost to her. After two months Jacy was brought to a rehabilitation facility to continue her recovery. Slowly but surely she was able to figure out that her parents were gone, her memory and her education were faded, and her physical and mental ability deteriorated. It was devastating to her and those close to her.
The devastating accident had occurred in rural Pennsylvania, just five minutes after Jacy and her parents left a gas station. At an intersection on a one-lane highway, an eighteen-year-old on his way to a Church camp reunion was on his phone. The young driver missed the fact that the light had changed due to his narrowed field of vision when driving distracted. A dairy truck, seeking to avoid collision with the young man's car, swerved into the lane of oncoming traffic, where Jacy and her parents were driving.
Luckily, a paramedic who lives in the house just across a field from the accident heard the collision. He rushed over, found the cars, and checked inside. Jacy's mother had not fastened her seatbelt and was killed just after impact. Her father's pulse was faint and he died almost immediately after being found. Jacy was still alive but unable to breathe. An ambulance quickly came to take her off to the nearest trauma center.
As she healed, Jacy struggled to cope and understand by doing research on distracted driving. She found that the brain's natural function of scanning to the sides and further down the road while driving are inhibited when using a mobile phone, even on Bluetooth. She found that although New York considers a collision like this manslaughter, Pennsylvania is far behind on drunk driving, texting, seatbelt, and traffic safety laws. The young man making a phone call was not prosecuted. "Even if you kill someone, there's no punishment, and it just seemed like there should have been something to do about it," said Jacy.
Still in recovery, she went before the state and made an appeal to strengthen driving laws. She was denied. She tried several times and was repeatedly rejected. When she returned to New York, she began to work with Governor Cuomo, a major activist against texting and driving. Cuomo has special forces in place who patrol specifically to find violators of the distracted driving laws of New York. Jacy's work escalated and she was soon involved in speeches at the United Nations, even working alongside Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. She has worked on awareness projects with Oprah Winfrey and with her fiancé Steves runs a foundation called Hang Up and Drive. "It's the only thing I can be doing," says Jacy. "The accident was the worst day of my life and I had to make something positive out of this. If I could have my life back, I would of course take it. But I've been handed these cards and I want to play them my best."
The general consensus from seniors after the presentation was one of a new appreciation for the dangers of distracted driving. "It was a breathtaking story," said Jake Schechner at the conclusion of the presentation. "It was truly touching, she's such an inspiration," elaborated Kate Howard. "It was good that they tackled an issue less obvious than drinking and driving," said Chris D'Silva I learned more here than I expected.
Jacy drove home the message that what happened to her can happen to anyone unless awareness is spread everywhere. She called upon the students to make a commitment to her and to themselves to be safe drivers and to make distracted driving as socially unacceptable as drunk driving, because one out of four crashes occur as a result of cell phone usage on the roads. Jacy urged students to realize that they are not invincible; accidents can happen to anyone, no matter how well they know the roads and no matter how safely they drive.
Jacy's story demonstrated that texting and distracted driving can cause unbearable pain and suffering that ripples outwards to family and friends and lasts a lifetime. As Steve said in the concluding video of the presentation, "You don't know if you're saving a life, but you sure as hell know if you do the opposite."
Photo Credit (Top Photo): Ronny Hersch
Contributer Ori Zaff is a Scarsdale High School senior in the A-School.