Consequences of distracted driving, drivers caught in the act

Consequences of distracted driving
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
Our crews went undercover and caught drivers in the act of distracted driving (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
Our crews went undercover and caught drivers in the act of distracted driving (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Distracted driving by people using their cell phones caused 141 crashes in Memphis last year. This year, we've already seen 36 crashes caused by drivers using their cell phones. The victims in these crashes--and those trying to prevent them--have a serious message for those who find themselves tempted to pick up the phone while their hands should be on the wheel.

The bond between Tracey Peacock-Nelson and her brother-in-law Mark is unbreakable. He relies on her care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's help he never needed until he was hit head on by someone who his family calls a distracted driver in February 2017.

"The cars just came up on the curb and hit me. Before I could get away from it, you know?" Mark Nelson said.

"She was looking down, going about 60 miles per hour," Tracey said.

The official crash report revealed the driver "lost control" of her car, drove onto the sidewalk, and hit Mark while he was walking.

The girl claimed her steering wheel locked up, she panicked and blacked out. But, an attorney for Mark Nelson says otherwise, writing in an email, "the evidence suggests she was distracted or texting on the phone."

So far, the driver has only been cited for failure to maintain a safe lookout/safe speed and for driving on the sidewalk.

"He actually died and was brought back twice," Tracey said. "Once was when they got him and once was when they got into a helicopter and lifted to Regional One."

Now, the Nelson family is pleading for more enforcement to help stop distracted drivers from hurting others.

Tennessee Highway Patrol is answering that call.

"That's the hardest part of our job is going to someone's house, knocking on the door, ringing the door bell, and telling the person that answers is that someone you love is never coming home again because of a preventable traffic crash," Tennessee Highway Patrol Sergeant Chris Richardson said.

Sgt. Richardson said the agency created specific campaigns to raise awareness to the dangers of distracted driving. They are also hitting the highways in unmarked cars, SUVs, and even a semi-truck to catch drivers in the act.

WMC Action News 5's Felicia Bolton rode along with undercover officers to find out exactly what law enforcement sees when people aren't aware of who is watching.

One man was driving with one hand on the wheel, while he held his flip phone with the other hand. A woman used her speaker phone, but kept looking down. She, too, used one hand to steer. There were also people texting, speeding, and veering in and out of lanes.

"Texting and driving is the mother of all distractions," Sgt. Richardson said. "That incorporates everything, taking your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, especially your mind off driving."

In 2016, there were 37,412 crashes in Memphis. Out of those, 141 were caused by distracted drivers using their cell phones. So far through April of this year, 10,584 crashes have been reported in Memphis and 36 of those were caused by drivers using their phones.

"Last year we had over 350,000 crashes in the state of Tennessee and that was worked by all agencies not just highway patrol. Of those, only 2 percent were caused by mechanical failure,  which means 98 percent were caused by the driver and anything caused by the driver was completely preventable," Sgt. Richardson explained.

Mark Nelson's family wants his life to be a reminder to others. Put down the phone and focus on the road.

"Anything that takes your eyes and hands away from you while you're behind the wheel of the car is asking for a deadly accident or an accident that will change someone like Mark Nelson's life forever," Tracey said.

To sign the pledge to not drive distracted, click here.

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.