Local resident advocates against distracted driving

By on June 3, 2011

by Keith Beebe
ELBURN—Just about every facet of Ryan Anderson’s life has revolved around the Elburn area: he was born here, grew up here, and worked here at Northern Fs Inc., after he graduated high school. His father, Dave Anderson, is the mayor of Elburn.

But there’s something else in Ryan’s life that he wants to make a local staple: a stance against distracted driving, which led Anderson to join an organization known as the Crash Coalition.

Crash (Coalition for Responsibility and Accountability on Streets and Highways) is a public charity that seeks to educate the public about the potentially deadly consequences of driving while distracted. The organization also provides assistance to victims, as well as their families, of accidents that are a result of distracted driving.

Anderson, now 34, was one of 14 people injured in a multi-car accident on May 23, 2009, at Route 47 and Smith Road, when then-24-year-old Alia Bernard of Aurora crashed her car into the back of Anderson’s Honda Civic. The impact of the crash pushed Anderson’s vehicle into oncoming traffic, where it collided with a group of motorcyclists—two of which, Wade and Denise Thomas of St. Charles, were killed.

Bernard is facing two charges of Aggravated DUI and two charges of Reckless Homicide with a Motor Vehicle. Her next court date is Thursday, June 9.

As a result of the accident, Anderson suffered numerous cuts that required stitches, a broken orbital socket that also related to an unconfirmed CSF (Cerebrospinal Fluid) leak, and two herniated discs in his lower back.

“After my accident, I was frustrated with the laws, the legal system, and trying to find out how ways that distracted driving, as a whole, could be changed,” Anderson said. “I was reading up on articles and came about the “nail polish” crash up in Lake Zurich (Ill.).”

The “nail polish” crash, which occurred three weeks before Anderson’s accident, involved a motorist who struck and killed a motorcyclist, 56-year-old Anita Zaffke.

Reading about the “nail polish” crash led Anderson to begin speaking with Greg Zaffke, president and founding board member of the Black Nail Brigade (the organization that would eventually become Crash Coalition), sometime around the one-year anniversary of the accident at Route 47 and Smith Road. Anderson immediately took to the group and began attending meetings and distracted-driving-related court cases. He is currently a Crash Coalition board member.

“I just did anything I could to help the organization,” he said.

Greg Zaffke said he defines distracted driving as multi-tasking actions—visual or cognitive—that result in drivers effectively driving blind and risking the lives of everyone on the road.

“It has been shown in studies and statistics that distracted driving is comparable to, and often more dangerous than, drunk driving,” Zaffke said. “Yet there is a huge disparity in the rate of prosecution and the severity of sentencing between DUI and non-DUI traffic fatality crashes. That must change if our society is going to change its perception of the serious dangers of distracted driving. These are 100 percent preventable deaths, and more attention needs to be given to holding the offenders fully accountable within our legal system for their negligent and reckless actions behind the wheel.”

According to Zaffke, the Crash Coalition’s initiatives are broken down into three categories: charity (establishing funds for victims of distracted crashes), advocacy (victim advocates and court monitoring) and awareness (education, awareness programs and events).

“We support more frequent application of current reckless homicide statutes, as well as the addition of a negligent vehicular homicide statute to fill the major gap between minor traffic fines and reckless homicide (which is a felony),” he said. “Too many people are killed on our streets, and typically the only consequence for the offenders is petty traffic court.”

Anderson said the Crash Coalition is really just starting to get its message out.

“For every second you travel while not looking at the windshield, your car can travel half the length of a football field, so imagine what can happen in that time,” he said. “People need to understand, because (distracted driving) has been a huge problem for a long time.”