Jeanne Brown never thought she’d be touring the country, sharing an anguished plea with every teenager she meets. She never expected to meet Oprah Winfrey or go on the talk queen’s former daytime show.
In fact, Jeanne Brown planned to continue her life as a mom and teacher in Lubbock, Texas, until her kids were grown and she was ready to retire.
But a series of small decisions on Nov. 10, 2009, by her then 17-year-old daughter Alex, would change the course of Jeanne Brown’s life and thrust her and her family in front of millions of people in a way she never expected.
What choices? Alex chose to drive her white pickup truck down a country road her parents had warned her not to take. She chose to drive an estimated 72 miles per hour in a 60 mile-per-hour zone. She chose not to wear her seatbelt. In addition, she chose to text at least four different people as she drove.
Any one of those decisions on that fall morning in 2009 certainly weren’t good – but together, they proved fatal. At some point during that drive to school, she lost control of her truck and was thrown from the vehicle as it rolled.
When notified by colleagues that her daughter hadn’t arrived at school, Jeanne Brown went in search of Alex. She found her lying in the grass near the mangled truck, drifting in and out of consciousness. Alex was airlifted to a hospital, where her parents ultimately had to make the unimaginable decision to have their daughter’s life support disconnected.
The day she died, the Browns decided to share Alex’s story, hoping it would prevent other teens from making the same choices that their daughter made. Their story caught the attention of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” which in addition to providing them a new home helped jumpstart the Remember Alex Brown Foundation.
As they travel the country, the Browns share memories of Alex as well as a stunning statistic: Texting while driving increases the risk of a crash by 23 percent.
Alex’s cellphone survived the accident, along with the messages from friends that filled her inbox in the hours after the horrific wreck. Her mom brings the phone – one Alex got free with a two-year contract – on her travels around the country. She holds up the phone, noting the irony of a free phone that ultimately cost Alex her priceless life.
Standing before teen audiences, Jeanne Brown shares a powerful message. “If you are adult enough to text and drive, then be adult enough to plan your own funeral. Because someone has to do it,” she says. “What color flowers do you want at your funeral? Someone has to make that choice. What kind of box do you want to be buried in? The people you leave behind shouldn’t have to make that decision for you.”
The Browns’ message on distracted driving comes with a request: Teens are asked to take a “don’t text and drive” pledge. (You can take the pledge or download it here.)
“You have to make that choice whether you’re more important than that text message,” says Alex’s dad, Johnnie Mac. “You put the option for your parents to bury you into play every time you pick up that phone to text while you drive. No family should have to go through this, because it’s senseless. It’s 100 percent preventable.”
For more information on texting and driving, visit:
Cnet.com: Study: Texting while driving increases crash risk 23-fold Official U.S. Government Website for Distracted Driving: Distraction.gov CBS News: Shocking stats on texting while driving.
To download a cellphone application that disables cellphone texting while you drive:
Phoneguard.com: Free app auto replies to senders that you are currently busy and will reply when you are able. Motion activated, there is an override feature for those times when you are a passenger. TextToggle is an application that intercepts text messages while driving and immediately replies to the sender with a personalized message. The app costs $4.99, with 30 percent of profits donated to the Remember Alex Brown Foundation.