WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The surgery scars on Austin Breitenstein’s head are a daily reminder of how close he came to death on December 4, 2009.
“It’s a parent’s nightmare,” said Julie Breitenstein, Austin’s mother. “You don’t ever expect to be called in the middle of the night to received a phone call that your child has been taken to a hospital.”
Austin was driving on I-235 south when he received a text at 1:52 a.m. He took his eyes off the road to read it, swerved off the highway, over corrected and was thrown from the vehicle. He spent 26 days in surgical intensive care. He had to relearn how to walk. He was 19 then.
“It’s taken us 10 years to get him this far,” said Julie.
He’s 29 now and can walk but still struggles with speaking. His mother said they are blessed to still have him here.
“We went through a period of time when he was in the SICU at St. Francis and we were living day-by-day,” said Julie.
Austin is one of the lucky ones. Distracted driving kills an average of nine people and injures 1,000 every day, according to the National Highway Safety Administration. That’s why AAA Kansas is placing signs on gas pumps around Wichita and Topeka to remind drivers put the phone down. It’s one of its newest tactics with the “Don’t Drive Intoxicated – Don’t Drive Intexticated” campaign to make distracted driving socially unacceptable.
“We feel that this is just another great way another touch point for us to get that message out to drivers while they are standing there filling up their tanks,” said Shawn Steward, Manager of Public and Government Affairs for AAA Kansas.
It’s an effort Julie welcomes and would like to see more of.
“Every sign we can get out there whether it’s a street sign or post it in our neighborhoods, just have to get the message out there that it’s not allowed any longer,” said Julie.
A AAA survey from March 2019 of more than 600 Kansas drivers revealed the following opinions on distracted driving:
- 69 percent said they notice more drivers distracted by electronic devices now than two years ago.
- 91 percent said they are “concerned” or “very concerned” about their safety on the road due to other drivers being distracted by electronic devices.
- 75 percent “think that it’s never okay” to use a smart phone for texting, emailing or social media while driving.
- When asked how often they look at their phones to read or send a text while driving, 3 percent responded “regularly, 4 percent said “fairly often,” 38 replied “rarely” and 55 percent said they “never” did so.
- 51 percent said they “always” or “often” put their smart phone away where it cannot be accessed while driving.
- 89 percent “strongly agree” or “somewhat agree” that the dangers of using a smart phone for texting, emailing and social media can be as serious as drinking and driving.
- 59 percent of respondents “rarely” or “never” use hands-free technology such as Bluetooth or voice-activated calling.
- When asked about the existing Kansas law banning texting while driving and whether survey participants would support or oppose a law in Kansas banning hand-held cell phone use while driving:
- 63 percent said they would support
- 22 percent said they would oppose
- 16 percent said they are not sure
As a call-to-action, AAA is asking the public to take a pledge against distracted driving by visiting: https://kansas.aaa.com/public-affairs/dont-drive-distracted