After being hit by a texting teen, Eagle woman advocates against distracted driving
EAGLE — Robye Nothnagel remembers seeing the car right at her hip, a fraction of a second before it struck her on Feb. 17, 2017.
She also remembers hitting the ground. But Nothnagel doesn’t recall being propelled onto the vehicle’s hood and catapulted through the air. She has a hazy recollection of emergency workers on the scene asking if they could cut through her clothing.
She definitely remembers waking up, in searing pain, in an ICU, where she spent the next five days. Her pelvis was broken in four places, and one of her tibia bones was broken in eight places. She also sustained compression fractures in her back and internal injuries.
“I have a fair amount of hardware in my body now,” Nothnagel said.
She also has a mission. The 18-year-old who was behind the wheel of the car that struck her was texting as she drove. The police accident report estimates the teenager was going 40 mph when she struck Nothnagel.
“She said she didn’t see me until I hit her car,” Nothnagel said. She pointed out the irony of that statement, because as the pedestrian, she didn’t hit the car. The car hit her.
“There were six of us crossing the road. There was a red light, and then suddenly there was a car there,” Nothnagel said. “Luckily for me, the car she was driving wasn’t a truck.”
It’s been more than a year since the accident, which happened in Frisco, Texas. But every day since then, Nothnagel has dealt with its consequences.
After the accident, she spent a week in the hospital, followed by three weeks at a Texas rehabilitation center before she could return home.
An active mother of teenage twins, Nothnagel was bed-ridden for an extended period.
“I slept in the living room in a hospital bed for six weeks,” she said. “I started in a wheelchair, and then I used a walker for a long time. I didn’t get out much.”
She recalled how the first time she went to physical therapy, she was too weak to even open the door.
Today, after surgeries to place eight screws and a plate in her leg and months of physical therapy, Nothnagel still has nerve damage. “There’s no good ‘cure’ for it,” she said. Doctors say the damage may improve with time, and it may not.
Last week, she took a walk through her neighborhood for the first time. It was a milestone. So was getting behind the wheel of her own car.
“The first time I drove, I had a panic attack,” she said.
But after her experience, Nothnagel has made a deliberate change in how she drives.
“I don’t use my phone in my car. No one in my family does,” she said.
And she hopes, by sharing her story, other motorists will make that same commitment.
No criminal charges were filed against the teenager who struck Nothnagel.
“That bothers me a lot,” she said. “It wasn’t against the law, in Texas, at that time to text and drive.”
According to the Colorado General Assembly website, distracted driving laws in Colorado prohibit adult drivers from manual data entry and transmission on cellphones while they are behind the wheel. Regular cellphone use for phone calls is permitted. The rules are tougher for minors. Any driver younger than 18 is prohibited from using a cellphone while driving.
The state law includes provisions for when texting while driving is permissible — when someone has reason to fear for his or her safety; when reporting a fire, accident or emergency; when reporting a person who is driving in a reckless manner.
But after her experience, Nothnagel believes there’s no safe way to text and drive.
“You can be at a stop light and texting, but when the light turns, what are you going to do? You are going to finish your text,” she said. Most of the time, that means finishing a text while driving through the intersection.
Nothnagel doesn’t want to see people doing that. In fact, she wants everyone to stash their phones while driving. That’s the theme of an advocacy effort she has launched.
As she has worked to recover from the injuries inflicted by a texting driver, Nothnagel has devoted herself to creating Colorado Drive Safe, a coalition with the mission to create awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. The organization’s efforts will include an education component and outreach to legislators with the goal of building a safer driving environment in the state.
As one of her first projects, Nothnagel created a car magnet design — a cross-slashed cellphone with the words “Stash It!” The magnet effectively communicates her message.
She found her magnet inspiration when she was driving in Denver and saw a truck that had a logo that stated “Cellphone-free vehicle.” She later called the number associated with the logo and found out that it belonged to an employee of O’Reilly’s Auto Parts. The O’Reilly’s corporation requires employees to place their cellphones in the glove compartment while driving company cars. Nothnagel would like to see more companies make that commitment.
She believes the magnets can serve two purposes — they communicate the distracted driving message to other motorists and they encourage the person behind the wheel to make sure he or she practices what the decal preaches. As for distribution, Nothnagel hopes to team with the Devils Against Destructive Decisions club at Eagle Valley High School as a starting point.
Nothnagel also recently filmed a public service announcement for the Colorado Department of Transportation. In the PSA, she describes her accident and urges people not to text and drive. She has seen the finished product several times, but it still packs an emotional wallop at the final line — “My life has changed.”
“That gets me every time,” she said.
“I feel so lucky to be alive. I feel like I have to tell my story,” Nothnagel said. “So many people have to tell the stories for someone else, someone who has died.”
Nothnagel said her message has two main themes — first, a driver has a lot of responsibility behind the wheel.
“A car is a heavy piece of equipment. When you have 3,000 pounds of equipment collide with a 100-pound person, the person is going to lose,” she said.
The second is a challenge.
“Look back at the last text you wrote. If you never saw it, what would your life be like?” she asked. “Now think if you hit someone while you wrote it.”
To learn more or to contact Nothnagel, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the group’s Facebook page at Colorado Drive Safe.
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