PARENTS

'Parents Have To Get Involved': One Mom's Ongoing Quest To End Distracted Driving Deaths

06/08/2015 04:19 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015
Kim Schlau

In December, a school bus crashed in Tennessee, claiming the lives of two students and one teacher's aide. Last week, it was revealed that the driver was texting prior to the accident. The news hit particularly close to home for Kimberly Schlau, of O'Fallon, Illinois.

Schlau's eldest daughters, Jessica, 18, and Kelli, 13, were killed in a 2007 accident that occurred when a state trooper lost control of his vehicle and hit Jessica's white Mazda, killing both girls. The trooper was reportedly on the phone at the time of his crash and driving at more than 120 mph.

Schlau has since made it her mission to help bring an end to deadly distracted driving, setting up a foundation in her daughters' honor, an effort HuffPost previously covered. In light of the news out of Tennessee, we caught up with Schlau again to talk about efforts to end distracted driving and what concerned parents can do -- and are doing -- to help keep their kids safe.

Police in Tennessee are saying the bus driver in December's accident "was driving while distracted due to sending and receiving text messages." Are we, as a country, getting any better about preventing tragedies like this?

I think that states are starting to realize that these laws [against distracted driving] need to be on the books, and a lot of them have them now, but I don't know why certain states tend to be holdouts. In Texas, for example, there was a big push [to ban texting and driving] that was voted down at the last minute, and that was very devastating to those of us who work hard to get these laws pushed through.

Unfortunately, it's often parents -- like me -- who have lost children who are doing the advocating. I didn't have a chance to go to Texas to testify, but I know a lot of parent advocates who did.

Why is it so hard for people to stop? It seems simple: don't drive and text or talk while holding a cellphone.

The problem is that even when states have these laws on the books, it still all boils down to personal choice. You can make as many laws as you want, but they still have to be respected by the people they effect. I live in Illinois, which has a hands-free law, and I still see people in my neighborhood on their phones, driving by and not any paying attention. I just want to go over to them and say, "What are you doing?!"

I think it's because they haven't had a dangerous close call, or a close call at all, so it's just not personal to them.

distracted driving
Schlau's daughters Jessica, left, wanted to work in marketing when she got older. Kelli, right, hoped to become a vet.

What should parents of teen drivers know to help keep them safe?

I personally have been working more with schools and teenagers (I just spoke at my daughter [Maddy]'s school -- she's been driving since January), and I do think teenagers are getting the message. My daughter certainly does. I've told her, "If you're riding in the car with someone and they're on the phone, ask them to stop. And if they won't stop, ask them to pull over. I would rather pick you up on the side of the road than drive with someone who is on the phone."

But there is this perception that it's often teens who are distracted drivers, and it's more often adults who are culprits. They tend to think, "Oh, I know how to drive... I can multitask." But it cannot be done. It doesn't matter if you've been driving for 20 minutes, or 20 years. You cannot multitask.

What about moms and dads who are now worried about their children taking the bus?

Go to your child's school and ask if they have a policy on cellphone use. Make sure the school is working with the bus company [to prohibit distracted driving].

And then tell your kids that if they see the driver on the phone to let you know. That happened to friends of mine, their kids were on the bus and said, "Our bus driver was talking on the phone." One of them took a picture and brought it to the school, and that bus driver was dismissed. We teach children to be respectful of adults and that they can't tell them what to do, but we have to let them know they have the right to report that.

It definitely sounds like you think parents can make a big difference ...

Parents have to get involved. They have to contact the schools to be advocates for their kids, and then they have to let their kids know that they can be advocates for themselves.

This account has been edited and condensed.

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