The sudden and heart-wrenching tragedy of losing a loved one in an accident is truly devastating. When Nikki Kellenyi lost her life in January 2012, her family knew Nikki’s death was avoidable and wanted to do something to prevent this from happening to anyone else. Nikki had been the passenger in the backseat of a vehicle when the driver, a classmate of hers, became distracted and collided with a truck, killing Nikki. In 2012 alone, 3,328 people were killed in a distraction-affected crash and 421,000 people were injured, including Nikki’s friend, another passenger, who was ejected from the vehicle.
Mike Kellenyi, Nikki’s father, and Lindsey Gianinni, Miss Gloucester County, have co-founded Nikki’s Foundation-People against Distracted Driving (PADD), a nonprofit organization, in order to bring attention to the dangers of distracted driving. Nikki’s Law was signed into law on April 14, 2013 by New Jersey governor Chris Christie. The law, which PADD hopes to make a federal law, tells the Department of Transportation to put more signs up and use Variable Message Signs to warn the public of the dangers and laws of distracted driving. Since forming in 2012, the organization has had over 150 signs installed in New Jersey, as well as Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Massachusetts, and they’ve even had signs installed in Canada and Europe.
Distracted driving is even more pronounced during the holidays because of increased travel and busy schedules. Holiday activities can increase stress and fatigue in drivers. Reading maps, grooming, adjusting the radio, and using a cell phone can distract from the task of driving. Be sure to get plenty of sleep and know where you are going before you get behind the wheel, or enter it into your GPS before you begin driving. When drivers are texting, they can be 23 times more likely to get into a crash. Keep your attention focused on the task of driving at all times to avoid an accident.
Distracted driving can be even more dangerous in inclement weather. If bad weather is present, increase your driving distance by 2 seconds. Make sure you have an emergency kit and your tires are properly pressurized. Do not use cruise control in inclement weather, and you should keep your lights on to increase your visibility for other drivers.
Consider installing apps on smartphones that discourage phone use while behind the wheel. Cellcontrol is an app that stops the driver from texting, emailing, surfing the web, etc. DriveScribe is an app that actually rewards drivers by giving them points when they drive undistracted and safely. These points can be cashed in for gift cards to popular retailers.
Sending or receiving a text message takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds- the equivalent of driving a football length field at 55 mph blind.
As someone who has been personally affected by the tragedy that can come with distracted driving, I urge you to drive carefully this holiday season. Keep your attention focused on the road, and avoid using a cell phone while driving. Remember that life is precious, and we want to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. If you're reading this, please sign the pledge to end distracted driving.
Please visit the PADD website to learn more about Nikki's Foundation, Distracted Driving, and what you can do to help. You can also tell your story, make a donation, or seek support if you are grieving over the loss of someone affected by distracted driving.