April 14, 2019

One family’s story: the price of distracted driving

by Brian

We know distracted driving is extraordinarily dangerous. Now what are we going to do about it?


Our son Brian graduated from college in May 2009 with a degree in economics. He moved back to Nashville and started looking for a job, which he fortunately found. He was living at home with us while he saved money to move into his own place. On Oct. 28, 2009, he left for work at about 7 a.m., as usual.

At 3 p.m., two state troopers came to our door and told us that Brian had been killed in an automobile crash that morning. They said that he had been driving east on Interstate 40 just outside of Nashville, when a young woman driving west lost control of her vehicle, crossed over the median and hit Brian head on. He died instantly.

The troopers also informed us that the reason for her loss of control was that she was distracted by using her cellphone. This both shocked and, ultimately, motivated us to learn more.

Once again, it’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month. It happens every April. So one might ask: What are YOU aware of?

National surveys continue to show that a large majority of us understand that distracted driving, particularly texting while driving, is extraordinarily dangerous. Practically everyone knows that texting and driving is one of the most dangerous things we can do, and is illegal in the vast majority of states. Most people also know that using our phone to make a call, even hand-free, is just as dangerous as driving with a .08 blood alcohol content.

But these same polls also reveal that a similar large majority of us continue to engage in what we know to be these potentially life-threatening behaviors. So perhaps the question is not as much “What are you aware of?” as it is “What are you going to do about it”?

BrianMy experience is that, for the most part, very few people take this epidemic of driving distractions seriously until it impacts their own lives, just as it did ours. Unfortunately, we don’t have some magic wand that will instantly change everyone’s behavior all at once. That simply doesn’t exist. What we need is for YOU to change your behaviors while you drive. These decisions made to drive more safely are made on an individual basis.

They say that when you lose a parent, you lose the past, but when you lose a child, you lose the future.

Brian was barely 23 years old when he was taken from us. He was fine student, an exceptional athlete, and if you ask his friends, the type of guy who always had a kind word and a smile for everyone.

We will never see him get married, or have children of his own. There will always be an empty seat at holiday celebrations, and one less laugh in happy times. Our lives go on, but the loss of Brian is constantly with us.

So don’t just be aware of the problem. Take a look in the mirror and be the change. It’s up to YOU, and it’s quite literally a life-and-death decision.


This post was written by Doug and Pat Ralls, who live in Brentwood, Tennessee. Doug is a retired restaurant industry executive, and Pat has been a stay-at-home mom since their son Brian was born in 1986. Their daughter, Emily, was born in 1989. Since their son Brian’s death in a traffic crash caused by distracted driving on Oct. 28, 2009, Doug and Pat have worked tirelessly as advocates and educators about the dangers of distracted driving. By last count, they have told their story to more than 50,000 people.


5 thoughts on “One family’s story: the price of distracted driving”

  1. Brick W. Sturgeon says:

    So very sad for the Ralls family. A tragic loss due to a continued epidemic of driving distracted. Even though it’s illegal, I see folks committing this illegal act every day. Wake up, people. This is such a selfish, life-threatening activity that MUST cease. Brian Ralls; all honor to his name.

  2. Janelle Uselton says:

    So sorry for your pain. My family knows it well. Our 22 yr old daughter, 2 months from becoming 22. From distracted
    Driver. All you said is so true. We will never see our child older. Only in Heaven will we rejoice.??

    1. My Southern Health says:

      Janelle, we are deeply sorry for your loss.

  3. Marlene says:

    I am deeply saddened for those families that have lost loved ones (especially their children) because someone was texting while driving. I try never to text and drive, though I do use my phone at times. When making a call I generally try to get Siri to dial it for me. It does not always work so I will either wait until I stop to dial the number or I will pull over to the side of the road.

    I have recently started using an APP that tracks my driving and scores me on acceleration, braking, cornering, speeding and phone use. The scores are tracked only by the APP and are not reported anywhere (according to the guidelines/terms), but could be if those monitoring the program see a pattern of wreckless behavior. I get an email each day showing my scores for the day. My weakness is speeding, but it has made me more aware of my driving so now I do often get 5 stars. The APP is called EverDrive. You install it and make sure it is active and it does the rest. When the car starts moving it starts tracking. You can suspend the recording or even log out if you prefer. I usually leave mine on as a reminder that I am messing with my 5 star rating.

  4. Sara says:

    Yes, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your story touched my heart. I am a big advocate of Don’t Text and Drive. Just 2 days ago, a man cut me off as I was exiting from I440 west. He didn’t even use a turn signal (otherwise I would’ve let him go before me). The guy was swerving as he drove in front of me Nodding every second. I could tell that he was texting. At once time he swerved into the turning lane then quickly went back to the right lane. So, I saw the logo on the truck, looked up the company & sent an email to them, describing the truck + license plate. This is Not the first time I do this and I will continue to do it. I did get a response saying that they will “look into it.” Hopefully, they will see how dangerous it is.
    Hoping for a better and safer world.

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