AMHERST — Following the hit-and-run death of a former fire chief, the fire department has launched an effort to ask people to take a pledge to not text and drive.
Last week, former Amherst Fire Chief John Bachman was struck by a car and killed as he was getting the mail at the end of his driveway on Merrimack Road.
According to Police Chief Mark Reams, it appears that the driver of the vehicle, Travis Hobbs, 20, of Mont Vernon, may have been texting or checking his phone when he hit Bachman. Hobbs, who has been charged with felony negligent homicide, reportedly told police he thought he hit a snow bank and didn’t realize he had hit Bachman.
On the morning of Christmas Eve, a Brookline woman was killed when a pickup struck rear-ended her and sent her into a path of an oncoming truck. Police believe that Greg Cullen, 31, of Milford was distracted when he ran into Katie Hamilton, 30, as she was stopped to turn left onto Route 130 from Route 13.
Motivated by the recent incidents, Amherst Fire Chief Mark Boynton and Lt. Chris Buchanan began developing a way to help raise awareness about the dangers of texting and driving among the department’s employees.
“We’re all aware that texting and driving is a problem,” said Boynton, “but Chief Bachman’s death has brought it to the forefront.”
Buchanan said that at one point in history, drinking and driving was considered socially acceptable but efforts to change that perception paid off. Unfortunately, he said, texting has taken the place of drunken driving.
“And you can’t just limit it to texting,” said Buchanan. “It’s all kinds of distracted driving, including eating, reaching for your coffee cup, reading a book — anything that takes your eyes off the road.”
Boynton said texting is especially problematic because people tend to be distracted for several seconds, which causes them to leave the road, cross the center line, or otherwise drive erratically.
“At 55 miles per hour you’re traveling 80 feet per second,” said Buchanan. “If you take your eyes off the road for three seconds, you’ve gone 240 feet blindly.”
Within that span of 240 feet, a lot of bad things can happen. To encourage members of the department to stop texting while driving, Boynton and Buchanan posted a form on the department’s website asking members to pledge to not text and drive. Boynton also posted the pledge page on Facebook, and 48 hours later, the pledge had taken on a life of its own. By Monday morning, more than 400 people had pledged not to text and drive.
“We had no idea it would take off like this,” said Buchanan. Just before noon, Buchanan was rushing to upgrade the department’s web page because they had far exceeded the number of responses the web host allowed.
And while most of the pledges came from people in Amherst and surrounding communities, Buchanan said he’d received forms from as far away as Bermuda and Siberia.
For more information, visit www.amherstnhfire.org.