Hi, my name is Wayne Rugenstein. For the past 20 years it has been my job to drive. Driving is something that I have always enjoyed, probably way back to when I was 15 years old and I got my permit and a 1965 Mustang.
The Mustang was something I had obsessed over for a few years, especially the early ones. My Dad and I worked on the Mustang to make sure it functioned as it should. Not only did I think they were just cool, but after getting my license it also represented freedom.
Part of that freedom was driving myself and some friends to school. On a sunny March day, I was showing off the new stereo that my Dad and I put in. What I had failed to notice was that traffic had stopped in front of me and I was about 40 feet from a stationary vehicle and I was going almost 30 miles per hour.
I hit a 1977 Chrysler Cordoba, a monster of a vehicle that I barely scratched with the front of my Mustang. I had been wearing my seat belt, as were my passengers, but they were lap belts only. I struck the steering wheel with my face and remembered seeing lots of blood.
Luckily my injuries were minor and my passengers and the other driver were ok as well. It was a blessing that this accident was literally in front of a fire station. Unfortunately, my Mustang had taken the brunt of the collision and just about everything on the front of it needed replaced.
As I look back on this now after nearly 30 years has passed, I recognize that I was very lucky that no one was seriously hurt. I had made a substantial error, but lived to learn from it.
As a professional driver with over 2 million safe miles, I see distracted drivers every day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), in 2014 there were 3,179 fatalities and 431,000 injuries caused by distracted driving. Many causes of distracted driving include using smart phones, watching movies, reading, and yes, even adjusting a radio.
I see my job differently today than I used to. The commercial vehicle I drive for my employer is filled with freight that our customers trust will be delivered on time, intact and damage free. I also must recognize the symptoms of distracted drivers and drive sort of like a sponge, soaking up the mistakes or poor decisions of those drivers to ensure that I do not add to those NHTSA numbers.
My hope is that you will do the same with me to “Put the Brakes on Fatalities.” The loss of a life or an injury due to distracted driving is a cost that is too high to pay for reading that text message or searching for your favorite song.
Wayne Rugenstein is a Kansas Road Team Member and also a driver for FedEx.
To read more stories about the importance of safety check out our Put the Brakes on Fatalities Day blog: http://ksdotblog.blogspot.com/