Investigators estimate it took Lorie Ann Miller about 10 seconds to send a text about her granddaughter’s T-ball game while driving – the same amount of time it took for her to kill a 52-year-old mom riding her bicycle in Marathon County.
Miller’s case shows the quick and significant danger of distracted driving, which causes about four million crashes a year in the U.S. and more than 3,000 deaths.
In that 10 seconds, officials estimate Miller traveled roughly 800 feet in her Kia Sorento, more than a 10thof a mile, enough to overtake and collide with Donna David, a 52-year-old teacher and medical researcher from Marshfield.
Miller faces a 10-year prison sentence and will endure a lifetime of grief, an emotion she expressed throughout a meeting with a Marathon County Sheriff’s Detective eight days after the crash.
“I just want to die. I want to take her place,” Miller told the detective, after being confronted with the evidence, a text that had been deleted from her cell phone.
The text to her son’s girlfriend was sent at 5:50:23 p.m. on July 13, 2015, a cloudy Monday. A local resident called 911 to report the crash two minutes and 53 seconds later.
The two-lane road was flat and visibility was clear for miles, according to crash reports. David, an experienced cyclist training for a ride across Iowa, was wearing a bright green jersey and riding on the far right side of County Highway T, northwest of Marshfield.
And Miller, the director of nursing for a health care provider in Arpin, could offer no other explanation for how she failed to see David biking northbound ahead of her. Even as as the detective presented the evidence that would be included in the criminal complaint against her, she denied using her phone in the seconds before the crash.
“That can’t be,” Miller responded as the detective explained his findings. “No, I swear. I swear to God I was not.”
Then she broke down.
Miller appeared in Marathon County Circuit Court last week, on a charge of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle, her first moving violation as a driver.
The time it took her to say ‘not guilty’ is about the same time it takes to kill someone on the road, and the time it took Miller to become a 53-year-old a reminder of how texting and other forms of distracted driving ruins lives.
Thomas Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, estimated that texting while driving increased the risk of a crash more than six times vs. model driving. His recent study, based on in-vehicle video observation of 3,542 drivers, found they were distracted about 50 percent of the time they spent behind the wheel.
“In addition, cell phone activities have changed even in recent years with the emergence of texting and browsing online,” he wrote in a paper released last year. “This is probably the single factor that has created the greatest increase in U.S. crashes in recent years, working against the general trend of crash and fatality reduction. An increased need or want to remain connected and productive via cell phones has the potential to escalate distraction-related crashes into the future.
“The results of this study provide hard and conclusive evidence that crashes and resulting injuries would be reduced if drivers did not use handheld cell phones.”
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety and the Wisconsin Bike Fed emphasize the same message through the Share and Be Aware Program.
No warnings provided by the Bike Fed will be as powerful as the examples of Lorie Ann Miller and Donna David, two 50-somethings with children, careers and lives altered forever, in 10 seconds.
As always, we want to end with the reminder that despite the 15 deaths last year and 3 so far this year, the number of serious crashes and fatalities involving people on bikes in Wisconsin has dropped steadily in recent decades.
Note that in the graph below, it was common to have 30-40 fatal bicycle crashes in the 1970s and today we average around ten. We have bike lanes and education to thank for the huge reduction in fatal crashes. In fact, our Share & Be Aware Program is one of the biggest programs we run at the Wisconsin Bike Fed. Our regional S&BA staff teach classes, work with Drivers Ed instructors, and share safety information at hundreds of events around the state all summer long.
Whether you are on a bike, behind the wheel or on foot, drinking dramatically increases the chances of a crash. Of course if you drink and drive, you might not be the only victim. We can all help make Wisconsin roads even safer by limiting the risk of driving or riding under the influence of alcohol.
If you would like to request one of our S&BA Ambassadors for a class or to table an event, make your request online here. We can also give you free safety information to share in your community or at you employer.