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Distracted and Deadly


Advocating against distracted driving has become Sharon Montgomery’s mission in life.

Before Sept. 5, 2000, she was a wife and mom who held two part-time jobs, worried about gifted education services at the local school, and helped look after her mother-in-law. But while coming home from a 51st birthday celebration for her husband, John, their car was hit in a chain-reaction crash caused by a distracted driver.

“It wasn’t an accident,” she said. “It was foreseeable and preventable.”

The Gahanna mother will tell her story in a roll call video being produced by the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) for law enforcement agencies. The video is meant to encourage officers to look for signs of distracted driving.

In the Montgomery family’s case, distracted driving took a life. 

A driver on a cellphone crashed into a car that then hit the Montgomerys’ vehicle at an intersection.

The driver who caused the crash was charged with failure to maintain an assured clear distance. The waiting driver and the Montgomerys were rushed to the hospital. 

While John was in intensive care, Sharon had surgery for life-threatening complications of her various injuries. 

“At one point, our 20-year-old only child, Andy, was standing in the hall, between the room where his father lay probably dying and the room where his mother, who had just narrowly escaped death, was having something awful and unknown happening.”

Sharon improved, but John did not. He died after six weeks in the hospital. 

The driver paid a $75 fine.

Meanwhile, Sharon’s life was falling apart. No income was coming in. Sharon’s sister and a friend were visiting each night to tend her injuries, since insurance wouldn’t cover that level of home care. She had to consult with a lawyer to figure out the auto insurance payment process and later to file a lawsuit to try to collect liability insurance money to cover more of their losses. 

“I wanted ‘phone use’ noted in the complaint, to establish a precedent, but the judge said he’d throw the case out if that were in there. My advocacy started with this move.”

In the end, the court ruled against Sharon.

Since then, Sharon has been working to promote tougher laws against distracted driving. 

Today, she is the leader of the Legislative Team for the Distracted Driving Initiative of the Risk Institute at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.  

The Risk Institute started the initiative in response to concerns from insurance companies about the rising number and cost of crash claims, with the assumption that distracted driving was a factor. But statistics to measure it were incomplete and difficult to find.

The team’s goal is to provide a set of recommendations for an effective law that is backed by research, an expert’s statement, or a precedent.

She also became a member of the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Distracted Driving Task Force’s Policy, Legislation, and Enforcement Group. The task force was started with the assumption that distracted driving was a factor in rising traffic death counts, after a few years of decline.

“I have come to realize that officers need three things to enforce a distracted driving law: authority (a law); skills (techniques for detecting device use, understanding of the complexities of what drivers can and cannot legally do with the device); and motivation (a gut-level understanding of how devastating it can be if they don’t stop a distracted driver).”

“My message,” she said, “is that a moment of convenience for one person can cause a lifetime of problems for another.”