As researchers were ramping up their work on the dangers of distracted driving, Vijay Dixit knew first hand the pain and devastation that can occur when drivers take their eyes off the road, even for a nanosecond.
In 2007, his 19-year-old daughter, Shreya, was a passenger in a car when the driver did just that. The distracted driver lost control, overcorrected and slammed into a concrete bridge pylon on Interstate 94 in Wisconsin. Shreya, a vibrant college student, was killed instantly. The driver survived.
For the past eight years, Dixit has channeled his profound grief into a mission to end distracted driving. His latest effort is a new book, "One Split Second: The Distracted Driving Epidemic, How it Kills and How We Can Fix It." Co-written by New York Times bestselling author and Hamline University adjunct professor Antonia Felix, the paperback was released last week just in time for Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April. There's a companion website, www.onesplitsecondbook.com.
"It was distraction that killed my daughter," said Dixit, who lives in Eden Prairie with his wife, Rekha. "Rather than brooding over my grief and becoming depressed, which we were, we said this is not the life we want to live. My grief therapist said the only way you can manage this is by doing something positive in her memory."
Dixit started the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation in 2008 to draw attention to the problem that has exploded into a national epidemic. In 2014, 3,179 people — nine a day — were killed and another 431,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
A message for all ages
The foundation holds an annual walk to raise awareness, and Dixit invites people who have been involved in distracted-driving-related crashes to student assemblies to share their experiences and the painful consequences. Last year he started distraction-free-driving clubs at two west metro high schools. He focuses most of his work on teens because his daughter was a teen, but the message to put down the phone applies to anybody, he said.
One of his biggest fans is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who wrote the foreword for the book and called it "a call to action, written with heart."
"It only takes a moment of distracted driving for a tragedy to occur," Klobuchar said. "Heartbreaking stories like Shreya's serve as an ever-present reminder that more must be done to crack down on distracted driving and reinforce the message that no text is worth dying for. My friendship with Vijay has strengthened those convictions, and I'm proud of the work he's done — and continues to do — to honor his daughter by fighting against distracted driving."
Dixit says the book has kept his daughter alive. But more importantly, by tying together facts and figures, research findings about driver behavior, and real-life stories, he hopes to change the culture on the roads and continue the conversation about distracted driving.
"Our dangerous behavior behind the wheel can change dramatically when we take responsibility for our actions," Dixit wrote. "Movements like Mothers Against Drunk Driving proved this. Because of MADD, drunken driving is not only outlawed, it is a deep-seated cultural taboo. One day distracted driving will be just as taboo."
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