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INDIANAPOLIS — I first saw a link to the video on
I’d covered AT&T’s campaign to discourage texting and driving before and was intrigued that the company, in partnership with other mobile phone providers, had hired a filmmaker to make a documentary about the issue.
I knew the video would be heartrending. I rarely make it through stories about the victims of car crashes without crying, especially when the cause of the accident is something as preventable as distracted driving.
And this piece — called From One Second to the Next — tells the stories of four such crashes. The victims are children and adults who had no blame in the accidents that killed them. Their stories are devastating.
But the voice that has since reverberated in my head came from a young man from Bluffton who caused one of those accidents. Chandler Gerber, 21 at the time, was sending and receiving texts as he drove his van along State Road 124 in Adams County at 60 miles per hour.
He didn’t see the Amish buggy in front of him until he plowed into the back of it. Three children died.
In the documentary, Gerber tells his story. In a voice that is strong but soft and emotional, he explains his panic at discovering what he’d done. He talks about waking up for weeks and believing it had to be a dream.
“I’m just a guy, you know,” he says in the piece. “I’m just a young guy. I’ve got a wife, you know, a daughter on the way. I’m just a guy. This couldn’t happen to me. That can’t be real. I had to have just dreamed that.”
As you read those words, it may seem that Gerber is making an excuse or looking for sympathy. But listening to him, looking into his striking blue eyes, it feels nothing like an excuse. Instead, I feel that Gerber is imploring me, imploring all of us, to listen to him. His message seems simple: This could happen to you.
He talks about his memories of the accident. He talks about reading a text from his wife. He remembers his head snapping up as the windshield shattered. He remembers a body coming down off the top of his van. He remembers the bodies in the ditch.
“What have I done?” he says he thought.
At this point, I had to pause the film. I was almost shaking. This young man seems so much like so many people I know. Friends, family members, my students. So much like me.
I’ve rarely sent texts while driving, but I have done it from time to time. I’ve certainly read them. I’ve checked my email at stoplights or when slowed down in heavy traffic. I’ve glanced down to dial my phone hundreds of times. And I’ve watched thousands of drivers around me do the same.
And it’s not just about texting. It’s about all the distractions that take our eyes off the road — our radios, our lunch, the little ones in the back seat. Texting and smartphones are just the latest in a long line of driving distractions.
But they are all dangerous. So dangerous. And yet, somehow, we convince ourselves we can handle it.
Chandler Gerber is here to tell us we’re wrong.
He was never tried for causing his crash. A grand jury declined to indict him. But Gerber now lives with the knowledge that he caused the death of three people, all because he thought a text message was more important than watching the road.
“I wish so bad I could go back to that day and change my focus,” he says in the documentary.
Of course he can’t.
“Please, please don’t do it,” he says. “Please, don’t ever text and drive. It’s life. You get one chance, and you live with the choices you make.”
That choice is mine. And it’s yours. Let’s start making the right one.
Lesley Weidenbener is managing editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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