Leave the phone alone | TheUnion.com

Leave the phone alone

Michelle Rindels
Staff Writer

For many people, using a cellular telephone while driving is a daily habit.

Four Nevada County women want others to know it can be deadly.

Carolyn Jones-Rogers lost her 53-year-old husband, Jim Rogers, in January when his bicycle was struck by a vehicle on Highway 174. Reports indicate the driver may have been using her cell phone at the time.

“Our world was turned upside down,” Jones-Rogers said. “Never in a million years did I ever imagine Jim would be killed in a cycling accident.”

Jones-Rogers and three others are kicking off a grassroots effort during this weekend’s Amgen Tour of California bike race. It’s called Bicyclists Against Distracted Driving, and the first step is distributing red, stop sign-shaped stickers that read “Save Lives.”

They’re just wide enough to put on the back of a cell phone, reminding drivers to leave the phone alone while behind the wheel.

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The proliferation of cell phones – and their increasing complexity – has led to thousands of deadly accidents. In 2008, nearly 6,000 people died in accidents caused by distracted driving, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In California, talking on cell phones is legal only if the driver uses a hands-free device; texting while driving is illegal; and some drivers are under greater restrictions if they are younger than 18 or drive a school bus.

Nationally, laws concerning cell phone use while driving are mixed. Some states bar cell phone use in school zones. Maine and New Hampshire have laws barring distracted driving. Some states allow distractions (including cell phone use) to be included as factors contributing to accidents.

But six states, including Nevada, have passed laws forbidding local jurisdictions from banning the use of cell phones while driving, according to information compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association.

‘No phone zone’

“There’s this culture of not having super-high attention,” said BADD member Debra Little, who started making a concerted effort after Rogers’ death to keep both hands on the wheel. “This is a really dangerous thing.”

BADD founder Rene McGillicuddy lost a cycling teammate in a 2008 double-fatality accident in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reeling from the shock, she didn’t take action against distracted driving until the same thing happened again with Rogers’ death.

McGillicuddy testified in April at a California Assembly hearing in favor of laws that increase penalties for distracted driving. She also hopes to connect BADD with other like-minded groups around the country.

Rogers wants to reach teens, bringing the distracted-driving message to new drivers before they form bad habits.

But this weekend, the goal is to get a simple message to drivers:

“You’re in a big piece of steel, and you’re responsible for your life and the lives of those around you,” said BADD member Karen Wallack-Eisen.

Bumper stickers that say “No Phone Zone” dot Wallack-Eisen’s vehicle, and she hands the small “Save Lives” sticker to people when she sees them drive up to her office talking on a cell phone.

Fighting the distracted driving trend is one way the women are making the best of a tragedy that took the life of a local cycling hero and a man remembered for his humility and generous spirit.

“Jim was the most wonderful person I’ve ever known in my life, and I’m not just saying that,” Rogers said. “I hope that we can all work together to honor him by making his favorite sport more safe.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

BADD meets 6 p.m. Mondays in the cafe area of BriarPatch Co-op

290 Sierra College Drive, Suite A, Grass Valley

For information, e-mail mcgillicuddy.rene@gmail.com

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