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Speaker Shawn O’Brien describes his real accident scene.

INDEPENDENCE – Up until Noon on Friday the 13th, the impaired driving awareness events for Independence High School students were staged. The Grim Reapers; the accident; the injuries; the arrest, booking, and trial of the impaired driver; and the funeral of a student killed in the accident – while all fake, the underlying scenario was real. The emotions were real.

Friday afternoon Shawn O’Brien shared his story, his real story.

O’Brien, a risk control representative for UFG Insurance in Cedar Rapids, was on the road traveling between appointments on Friday, July 15, 2011. It was a beautiful clear summer day.

According to an article written by his co-worker Lisa Kirchhoff: O’Brien was “driving west behind an SUV, those carefree thoughts [of weekend plans] turned to shock in a matter of seconds. As an oncoming car rounded a curve in the road, it crossed the centerline, crashing nearly head-on into the vehicle in front of O’Brien. Swerving to miss the crash, O’Brien’s own SUV landed on its side in the ditch.

“Two of the three occupants of the vehicle ahead of him died as a result of their injuries. O’Brien walked away with just a scratch on his elbow and a complete change in perspective. After learning that the crash could likely have been caused by the simple act of the driver reaching for a cell phone, O’Brien realized he could not let witnessing this tragedy pass without trying to do something to stop it from happening again.

“O’Brien is the first to admit that up until that day, he always used his cell phone while driving. With a job that requires him to be on the road during his workday, spending his drive time while talking with customers and co-workers was the norm. Yet seeing the crash and knowing it was completely avoidable had a cell phone not been involved is what stuck with him.

“Using a cell phone while driving is a choice we make—a very selfish choice. Thinking ‘I’m going to do this in spite of everyone else because my text or my phone call is that important,’ yet it’s not,” says O’Brien. “It’s sad that it took such a tragic incident to make me believe in it so strongly. Unfortunately, I think that’s how most of us get there.”

From that incident, O’Brien’s life was changed. He focused his energies and newfound passion into creating a presentation to share with schools and organizations about the dangers of distracted driving.

In his speech on Friday, April 13, he showed a slide of the actual accident scene. He pointed out his upside-down vehicle; the visible half of the vehicle that was hit in front of him; the Deputy Sheriff standing by the vehicle; and the blanket covering a deceased 3 year old girl. What was not shown in the photo was the remains of the driver, mother to the little girl; and another daughter, age 6, who was alive, but banged up and laying in tall grass after being thrown from the vehicle.

“When I walked up to her,” recounted O’Brien, “the first thing she said was, ‘How is my sister?’.”

O’Brien’s initial presentation was developed by UFG into a public service campaign titled: “Worth it.”

“We all have things in our life that we value tremendously and no phone call is worth losing any one of those things,” he says. “Not just with cell phones, but with the eating and the hands-free devices, and everything else drivers do besides concentrating on the road. Nothing is worth it.”

For more statistics, information, and educational content regarding distracted driving, visit

In the next installment of the Impaired Driving Event, coming in Saturday’s Bulletin Journal, the students and adults involved give feedback.

9 signs you could be a distracted driver

Sponsored by United Fire Group

When you hear “distracted driving,” texting is usually what comes to mind. But in today’s age of multitasking, driving distracted means far more than simply texting. If you can identify with any of these statements, you are driving distracted.

1. You keep your phone on the passenger’s seat while you drive.

2. You often eat while driving.

3. You talk on your phone while you drive.

4. You use a hands-free in-dash system.

5. You adjust your GPS system during your drive.

6. You find yourself going over the events of your day on your drive home from work.

7. You are quick to attend your child in the backseat while you drive.

8. You’ve been known to do a quick makeup or hair touch-up when you are in slow stop-and-go traffic.

9. You like to have a lot of other people in the car because it keeps you from being distracted by your phone.