“This is my daughter, Casey Feldman. This is the face of distracted driving,” Joel Feldman said while holding a large poster board with the photo of a smiling and beautiful young woman.
Casey was 21, and a pedestrian in a crosswalk in Ocean City, New Jersey, when she was struck and killed by a distracted driver.
It was seven years ago.
For Joel, it’s still fresh.
“What it comes down to is I’m alive and my child is dead and I’m the one with the future,” Feldman said while choking back tears. Casey, he said, would’ve been 28 last week.
There were nearly 15,000 distracted driving crashes in Pennsylvania last year, according to PennDOT. There were 66 deaths. Agonizingly to many, they were all preventable.
“There’s simply no text message, no phone call, no email that is more important than focusing on controlling a vehicle that covers 90 feet-a-second at 60 miles an hour,” said Sudhir Patel, a lawyer with the Pennsylvania Association for Justice.
Senator Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry) hosted a news conference Monday morning at the Capitol to push Senate Bill 153, which would ban handheld cell phones while driving. Texting while driving is already illegal in Pennsylvania, but holding a phone to your ear behind the wheel is not.
“Studies have shown talking on the phone, reaching for the phone, are the highest levels of distraction while driving,” Teplitz said, “but it’s more than just that and we all need to be conscious of it.”
Joel Feldman is now painfully aware. He played a video at the news conference. It too was hard to watch. It had a montage of pictures of Casey and Joel is quoted, “I go to weddings now and it’s painful as you can imagine seeing the dad walk down the aisle, with that first dance with his daughter, knowing that will never happen.”
Joel has a website, enddd.org. That stands for end distracted driving. He has become an advocate for tougher laws and more education.
Both of Joel’s arms are full of brightly colored wristbands. Each represents a victim of distracted driving. He says they were given to him by parents encouraging him to fight on.
“These are the girls,” Joel says while pointing the bands on his left arm. “And these are the boys,” he says while showing off his right. “They say please remember our children so no other young children are killed. Please do what you can.”
Joel says none of us should drive distracted, but most of us do. He admits he used to. Then Casey was killed. His mission now is to make distracted driving as taboo as drunk driving.
“If more of our teens are gonna be injured in distracted driving crashes today than drunk driving, and those are the stats, why shouldn’t distracted driving be socially unacceptable?” Feldman asked.
This dad against distracted driving speaks to teens across the state, but his message is for their parents who are setting dangerous examples with their own driving habits.
“Be the driver you want your teen to be,” he said.
Senate Bill 153 would make handheld cell phone use while driving a secondary offense, meaning a driver couldn’t be pulled over specifically for that but could be fined if caught while committing another violation.