Like thousands of Americans each year, Utah’s Jamie Lynn Crandall (now best known as Miss America), lost a friend to distracted driving. Her friend was killed by a driver who ran a red light while texting behind the wheel in 2007. The victim’s mother, Linda Mulkey, later founded an advocacy organization “Hang up, Save a Life,” which includes an informative website, awareness resources, and a scholarship fund. Crandall immediately began fighting for this cause, and has pledged to continue this effort throughout the next year, while acting as Miss USA.

“I tell them that, if they text and drive, their lives could change forever in a split second,” says Crandall. “It was so hard for me to get that phone call in the morning after I had just been with Lauren hours before.” Even before becoming Miss USA, Crandall worked to lobby the Utah State Legislature to pass its law against texting while driving. The bill, one of the first of its kind, became law in 2009.

On Friday, I discussed a confusing new report sponsored by the Governors Highway Safety Administration and State Farm Insurance, which said that distracted driving is a leading cause in 25 percent of all car accidents, but that cell phone bans do nothing to reduce distracted driving accidents. This report drew criticism from safety advocates like National Safety Council official David Teater, who said simply “we think there is enough research to enact total bans, handheld and hands-free.” Such cell phone bans have been enacted in 9 states nationwide, and 34 have implemented laws against texting while driving.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has long been a proponent of strict laws against distracted driving, which kills nearly 6,000 and injures half a million each year. In a speech last year, LaHood was clear about the dangers of underestimating distracted driving. “The simple fact is that texting and talking on cell phones behind the wheel is a deadly epidemic,” he said, “to suggest otherwise is to put your head in the sand. To spend considerable resources to suggest otherwise is a glaring waste.”

Good luck to Jamie Lynn Crandall and Secretary Ray LaHood in the effort to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and boost enforcement. Hopefully, despite the rise of technology, fewer Americans will be impacted by texting while driving each year.

Photo credit: