Kelsey Raffaele wore bracelets around her right wrist in memory of Brett and Chucky.
The 17 year old from Sault Ste. Marie, MI, missed her friends – Brett succumbed to cancer and Chucky drowned in a river. Kelsey worked on a two-page memorial spread for the Sault Area High School yearbook to honor Brett, and she told her family she hoped to be with both of them someday.
The yearbook came out in the spring of 2010. It tragically included a memorial page for Kelsey just behind the one she had so carefully designed for her friend.
On Jan. 24, 2010, Kelsey chatted on her cell phone with a friend as she drove through town after school. She decided to pass a vehicle but misjudged the amount of time she had to safely do so. She told her friend, “Oh [expletive], I’m going to crash,” and tossed the cell phone in the back seat.
It was the last time anyone would speak to Kelsey.
Unable to avoid an oncoming vehicle, Kelsey tried to get back in her lane and overcorrected. She was T-boned by another vehicle and crashed. Despite traveling at just 35 mph, the impact was so severe that Kelsey died from her numerous injuries.
“I can’t tell you how much I miss her,” Kelsey’s mother, Bonnie, said. “I still cry every day and I know I probably will for the rest of my life.”
Car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, accounting for more teen deaths than homicide and suicide combined. Drivers ages 16 to 19 are three times as likely to crash as older, more experienced drivers, and about 5,000 people die each year in crashes involving young drivers.
Drivers using cell phones are four times as likely to crash. Using a cell phone while driving significantly increases a teen driver’s already high crash risk.
Cell phone distracted driving is unique in that it can combine all three types of distractions – visual, mechanical and cognitive. Hands-free devices offer no safety benefit as the mind still focuses on the conversation and not on driving.
Thirty-one states ban teen drivers from using cell phones, but Michigan is not one of them. That could change very soon.
A year after Kelsey’s death, Bonnie began working with lawmakers on a bill that would prohibit cell phone use for drivers with level 1 and 2 graduated driver licenses. The bill is called “Kelsey’s Law.”
In February 2012, the bill passed the Michigan Senate. The House of Representatives still has not voted.
Bonnie now speaks to high school students about cell phone use while driving, emphasizing the dangers of the conversation – something most teens tell her they didn’t realize.
“It is still difficult to talk about that day time after time again, but I have to save the kids,” Bonnie said.
In addition to her political work and public speaking, Bonnie, her husband, Ron, and Kelsey’s twin sister, Courtney, have joined the HEARTS Network, a grassroots initiative of the National Safety Council in partnership with The Allstate Foundation. Bonnie also is a Board Member for FocusDriven – Advocates for Cell-Free Driving.
Family mattered most to Kelsey and they are following her lead and making a difference by sharing what they know to protect teens and keep families together.