Justin Martinez’s popularity meant people always wanted to get in touch with him.
If a family member or friend needed to talk, the 19 year old from Harris County, TX, wanted to be available. Justin’s listening ear and caring heart drew people to him. His outgoing personality and genuine smile made others feel comfortable, and he had a knack for making those around him feel important.
So when the cautious and responsible teen received a phone call while driving on July 20, 2011, he answered it.
This time that call, which lasted 29 seconds, was deadly.
It was around 9 p.m. when Justin picked up the phone call from a friend. He quickly became distracted by the conversation and failed to see the vehicle in front of him slow to make a right turn.
Some of Justin’s friends were driving behind him and realized Justin was about to get into a rear-end collision. They pulled up next to him to get his attention, but when Justin saw them and turned to look ahead again, a crash was nearly imminent.
Justin swerved into oncoming traffic as he overcorrected. Seconds after he successfully avoided crashing, a white Mitsubishi in the opposite lane could not avoid colliding with Justin’s vehicle.
The Mitsubishi T-boned him. Just like that, an ever ringing cell phone fell completely silent.
There, about 200 yards from his house, Justin died.
Cell phone use is dangerous for all drivers. A driver using a cell phone is four times as likely to crash, and these crashes happen with alarming frequency. The National Safety Council estimates cell phone use is involved in at least 24 percent of crashes each year, and about 1.1 million of those crashes involve cell phone conversations.
Talking on a cell phone while driving, regardless of whether the driver uses a handheld or hands-free device, is cognitively distracting. Cell phone conversation takes the driver’s mind off the task of driving and consequently the driver can miss up to 50 percent of the driving environment. Common cues like stop signs, red lights and other motorists’ actions easily can go unnoticed.
Thousands die each year in crashes involving cell phone use. They include promising young people like Justin – pillars of families and social circles – and their lives are over far too soon.
Since Justin’s death, his father, Herbie, has worked to raise awareness about the dangers of cell phone distracted driving. He has joined FocusDriven – Advocates for Cell-Free Driving – a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending cell phone distracted driving – and the HEARTS Network. HEARTS is a nationwide community of people whose lives have been changed forever because of crashes involving teen drivers. FocusDriven and HEARTS share the tragic stories behind the statistics in the hope of enacting change.
Advocacy efforts can give tragedy a sense of purpose, but they never can offset the pain and heartache the Martinez family and Justin’s friends endure every day.
They must go on knowing a remarkable and promising young man is gone – all because of a 29 second cell phone call that undeniably could have waited.