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Oprah: Stay off your phone while driving

Shelley and Daren Forney took their campaign against distracted driving to The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Shelley and Daren Forney took their campaign against distracted driving to The Oprah Winfrey Show.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Oprah Winfrey talked with people who lost loved ones to accidents with distracted drivers
  • Shelly and Daren Forney lost their daughter in an accident
  • They are campaigning for tougher laws against driving while using a phone
  • Winfrey asks people to make cars a no-cell-phone-zone

(OPRAH.com) -- Shelly and her husband, Daren Forney, were the happily married parents of three beautiful girls, 13-year-old Jessica, 9-year-old Erica and 4-year-old Valerie. "Erica is my little sunshine because she lit up the house," Shelly says. "She was making us laugh before she was a year old."

Two days before Thanksgiving in 2008 , Shelly came back from a doctor's appointment to find emergency crews on her street. "There were all these people and a child lying on the ground," she says. "I had no idea it was my daughter."

Daren says Erica was riding her bike home from school. "Erica was just around the corner from our house," he says. "She was 30 seconds from being home safely."

Erica had been hit head-on by a 5,000-pound SUV. Police say that the driver had recently finished a phone call at the time of the accident. "The driver said: 'I'm so sorry. I didn't see her,'" Shelly says. "I felt badly for the driver because I thought: 'Oh, she's unconscious. She's going to be okay.' ... And they started cutting my daughter's clothes off and it was hitting me this is very, very, very serious."

Watch mom remember her daughter, the fatal day Video

Erica was rushed to the local children's hospital, then airlifted to another facility. "The neurosurgeon made it very clear she was going to die," Shelly says. "I spent the night with her that night. I held her. Cried. I kissed her. I sang to her. I just needed to have time with my girl."

The driver of the SUV, Michelle Smith, pleaded guilty last year to careless driving resulting in death and was sentenced to two years probation, a $300 fine and 150 hours of community service, according to the Denver Post. Her sentence also required her to write a letter of apology to the Forney family and have the letter published in newspapers.

Since Erica's death, Shelly and Daren have been working to change the laws in Colorado. "I don't want any other parent to have to go through this, or a husband to lose his wife," she says. "We have been trying so hard to get this law changed, and we're going to continue until it happens."

Video: Distracted driving on 'Oprah'

In the meantime, Shelly and Daren say every single person who gets behind the wheel can make a difference. "Get off the phone. Save a life. Don't talk and drive," she says. "You've got precious cargo in that car. Your life. Your children's life. They are not worth a phone call, a text, an e-mail. It's not worth it."

Nearly 500,000 people are injured and 6,000 are killed each year because drivers are talking, texting and e-mailing behind the wheel, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"It is my prayer that this show, this day will be a seminal day in your life," Oprah Winfrey said on her show Tuesday.

"Let it be the end, the end of you using a cell phone or sending a text message when you are behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. And until we as a nation decide we're going to change that, those numbers are only going to go up."

Oprah.com: Take Oprah's no phone zone pledge

Most European countries ban the use of handheld cell phones while driving, but not all U.S. states have laws restricting texting and driving.

So far, 19 states and the District of Columbia have banned texting while driving. In seven states and the District of Columbia, drivers can only use their cell phones if they are hands-free. Of the states with these laws, Utah's laws are among the strictest, due to one distracted driver and two grieving families.

Oprah.com: Why multitaskers should beware

September 22, 2006, began like any other day for Jackie Furfaro. She kissed her husband, Jim, goodbye as he left to pick up his colleague, Keith O'Dell, for work. A few hours later, Jackie arrived at work, where police were waiting for her. They told her Jim had been in an accident. "I saw Jim's license in the hands of one of the police officers, and I realized that he was dead," she says.

"They told me that a 19-year-old who was driving a white Tahoe had crossed the center line and clipped my husband," she says. "He ended up in the oncoming traffic line and was broadsided by the vehicle behind the 19-year-old, and he was killed instantly, along with Keith."

An investigator at the crash site suspected texting was involved when he saw the 19-year-old, Reggie Shaw, texting on the way to a mandatory drug and alcohol screening. No drugs or alcohol were found in his system, but cell phone records confirmed Reggie had been texting from the time he got into his car up until the moment of the crash.

Reggie was sentenced to 30 days in jail, community service and to honor a unique request from Jackie -- to watch a video of her husband's funeral. "I just wanted him to know who he killed," she says. "That was a way for him to get to know one of the men."

Before the accident, Reggie says he texted "pretty close to 100 percent of the time" while driving. "I just never thought about it," he says. "Growing up, going to high school, going to driver's ed, it was never taught to me how dangerous it was."

Reggie says he's haunted by what he's done. "This affects my life every day. It's something that I can never really forgive myself for. It was a poor choice that I made," he says. "I have trouble sleeping at night. You drive down the road, you see accidents on the side of the road, and instantly that's the first thing that I think of. It's hard every day. It never gets easier."

When asked whether the jail time he served was enough, Reggie says he doesn't know. "I think about those 30 days in jail and what I went through and how hard that was for me -- and I think about the two lives that are lost," he says. "I don't know if it was enough."

Still, Reggie says it's important for him to share his story with others. In fall 2008, Reggie spoke at a national summit in Washington, D.C., about the dangers of distracted driving. He also speaks at high schools to give students the warning he never received.

"A lot of them think along the lines like I thought: 'I can do this. I'm safe,'" he says. "I explain to them: 'It's not safe. Absolutely not. Look what it's done to me. Look what it's done to these two families. You don't want to put anyone through that. It's not worth it.'"

Oprah.com: Can cell phones put you at risk

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