Texts cause close calls on roads

Posted Nov. 12, 2010, at 11:36 p.m.

Last week, Alicia Nichols wasn’t sure of a lot of things as she drove from Bangor to Belfast for a meeting, but she was pretty sure that she “didn’t want to die on Route 1A in Frankfort.”

Nothing against Frankfort, mind you. It’s a picturesque little hamlet tucked in between Winterport and Stockton Springs, but Nichols was not interested in dying there, and she certainly wasn’t keen on dying as another statistic, another victim of the senseless act of texting while driving.

But for an instant or two on the morning of Oct. 28, which started for her as it did for many of us — just another day of work and meetings — she was pretty sure that was her fate.

“I’m driving along at about 50 miles per hour, which is the speed limit there. The river is on one side and oncoming traffic is on the other and I see this car drift into my lane and I think that she’s got enough room here and she’ll correct herself, but she didn’t. She kept coming until she’s completely in my lane and I’m realizing that we are going to have a head-on collision.”

As the car fast approached her, Nichols could tell that the young female driver had no idea she was in the wrong lane because her head was bowed, seemingly paying attention to something in her lap.

“Her hands were not even on the wheel.”

Nichols, a smart and ambitious sort by nature, flashed back to her college-level physics class.

“So I’m thinking, ‘OK, she’s doing about 50 miles per hour and I’m doing about 50 miles per hour and we’re going to hit head-on and probably my air bag isn’t going to be enough to save me,’’’ she said.

“And oh my God, I’m gong to die on Route 1A in Frankfort because this girl is texting,” she said.

It’s a moment she’s quite sure will stick with her for the rest of her life, which by the way did not end on that day on Route 1A in Frankfort.

But only because, at the last possible second, the young woman behind the wheel of the other car jerked her wheel and her car back into her own lane.

“I passed her by and I swear it was 10 minutes before my jaw shut. I truly could not believe that I was still alive and that she had not hit me,” she said.

Alicia of Newport owns and operates Alicia J. Nichols Fundraising Counsel and spends much of her time on the road traveling to and from meetings and consultation sessions.

She has become quite adept at noticing the number of drivers who are navigating the state’s highways and rural roads with their eyes on their cell phones rather than the road.

“This was the closest I’ve ever come to death, I’m pretty sure,” she said this week. “I’ve been driving for 34 years, and this is the scariest moment on the road I’ve ever had all because this young woman had to be texting. How senseless is that? I drive all of the time and I think people need to know just how many people they are meeting head-on every day who are behind the wheel and paying no attention. I still sometimes can’t quite believe that we didn’t hit. I think it was truly a miracle.”

She didn’t get a good look at the young woman’s face that day. She didn’t get a license plate number.

She can only hope that the busy texting driver was even a fraction as shaken up as she was and “maybe learned a lesson.”

“Personally, I came home that night and I got in touch with all of my friends who have teenage drivers in their home and I told them to talk to their kids about texting and driving. If you haven’t had that conversation then you need to, and you need to right now,” she said.

It is illegal for drivers under age 18 to use a cell phone while driving in Maine, but it is not for anyone over 18.

Maine Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham plans to offer up a bill in January that would outlaw texting and driving in Maine. Maine would become the 31st state in the country to do so if the bill passes.

Yes, drivers are distracted for a variety of reasons. Yes, some of us eat while we drive. Some of us fiddle with the radio. Some of us scold our children in the back seat.

None of it is safe, and there is no way to legislate it all out of existence. But cell phone records make it easy to prove whether you were using the phone when a crash occurs.

Hefty charges, such as vehicular manslaughter in the case of a fatality, and steep fines could go a long way in changing the average driver’s viewpoint on just how important that text message they just received is.

It is perhaps a miracle that Alicia Nichols didn’t die on Route 1A in Frankfort last week. That the story of another fatality involving a texting-while-driving motorist was not bannered across the front page of the paper.

She was just headed to a meeting that morning like you and I and our loved ones will be next week, and we can probably be assured that one of the drivers heading toward us at 50 mph will have their head bent toward their lap and their fingers flying across a tiny keypad.

E-mail Renee at reneeordway@gmail.com and listen to her and co-host Dan Frazell from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on the radio at 103.1 The Pulse.

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