“Agony claws my mind. I am a statistic. When I first got here I felt very much alone. I was overwhelmed with grief, and I expected to find sympathy. I found no sympathy. I saw only thousands of others whose bodies were as badly mangled as mine. I was given a number and placed in a category. The category was called ‘Traffic Fatalities.’ “The day I died was an ordinary school day. How I wish I had taken the bus. But I was too cool for the bus. I remember how I wheedled the car out from mom. ‘Special favor,’ I pleaded – ‘All the kids drive.’ When the 2:50 p.m. bell rang, I threw my books in the locker. I ran to the parking lot – excited at the thought of driving a car and being my own boss. Free. “It doesn’t matter how the accident happened. I was goofing off – going too fast. Taking crazy chances. But I was enjoying my freedom and having fun. The last thing I remember was passing an old lady who seemed to be going awfully slow. I heard a deafening crash and felt a terrific jolt. Glass and steel flew everywhere. My whole body seemed to be turning inside out. I heard myself scream. “Suddenly, I awakened. It was very quiet. A police officer was standing over me. Then I saw a doctor. My body was mangled. I was saturated with blood. Pieces of jagged glass were sticking out all over. Strange that I couldn’t feel anything. Hey, don’t pull that sheet over my head! I can’t be dead! I’m only 17, I’ve got a date tonight. I’m supposed to grow up and have a wonderful life. I haven’t lived yet. I can’t be dead! “Later, I was placed in a drawer. My folks had to identify me. Why did they have to see me like this? I had to look at mom’s eyes when she faced the most terrible ordeal of her life. Dad suddenly looked like an old man. He told the man in charge, ‘Yes, he is our son.’ “The funeral was a weird experience. I saw all my relatives and friends walk toward the casket. They passed by, one by one, and looked at me with the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Some of my buddies were crying. A few of the girls touched my hand and sobbed as they walked away. Please – somebody – wake me up! Get me out of here. I can’t bear to see mom and dad so broken up. My grandparents are so wracked with grief they can barely walk. My brother and sister are like zombies. They move like robots. In a daze. Everybody. No one can believe this, and I can’t believe it either. “Please, don’t bury me. I’m not dead! I have a lot of living to do. I want to laugh and run again. I want to sing and dance. Please don’t put me in the ground. I promise if you give me just one more chance, I’ll be the most careful driver in the whole world. All I want is one more chance. Please, I’m only 17.” John L. Berrio. I remember my mother giving me a newspaper clipping with the above letter to Dear Abby when I first got my licence.
I don’t think I paid too much attention at the time but it finally hit home the following year when 5 schoolmates were killed in an auto accident. Although this was long before cell phones, an investigation into the accident pointed to distracted driving. That accident obviously devastated their families and our entire school. It really was an eye opener as to what can happen when you take your eye off the road for even a split second. At highway speed, even glancing at a text for 5 seconds you travel the full length of a football field. Distracted driving – texting, cell phone use and other activities – has become the leading cause of needless fatal and injury collisions. I read a stat recently that more than 15,000 teen drivers are killed or injured in California ever year. In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed, and almost 400,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. Our son Keith started driving on his own in 2017 and we constantly talked to him about the importance of staying 100% focused when he’s behind the wheel. It gives me an amazing feeling when he doesn’t even want me eating or drinking a coffee when I’m driving him somewhere. But it’s not just teens that need to be reminded about staying off their phones. I drive the 400 series highways 3-4 x a week and I’m shocked at what I still see. Earlier this week I counted 23 people (6 were truck drivers) texting or reading their emails as I drove from London to Mississauga. One driver was actually reading a book on his iPad and actually hit the rumble strip 2 times before I finally passed him. I made note of his truck number and called his fleet when I got stopped. The safety manager whom I’ve known for many years appreciate the call. 87peoplewerekilledin2017in72accidentsinvolvingtransport trucks. Just over a year ago, the OPP kicked off a week-long blitz (https://www.todaystrucking.com/opp-week-long-blitz-putsofficers-in-trucks) that attempted to curb distracted driving on the part of transport truck drivers and other commercial vehicle operators. “Operation Safe Trucking,” was a campaign that ran all week with officers actually driving transport trucks to try and catch offenders from a more accessible vantage point. “We’re taking the initiative and putting a different twist on it this year, in an attempt to raise awareness more effectively,” said Richard Cunningham, an acting sergeant with the OPP in northwestern Ontario. “When they locate a distracted driver, they have a cruiser that’s in the area, dispatched to that vehicle. “Hopefully, knowing that this is going on will stop them from using their cell phones or becoming distracted in any other way.” No text or email is worth it. Let’s all agree to put down our phones and make our highways safer. The life you save may be your own.