On a snowy March evening in 2014, Brad Hughes parked his patrol vehicle on Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield County and turned on his emergency lights. As a conservator of the peace, one of Hughes’ responsibilities was to assist police officers at crash sites. This was a multi-vehicle crash on an icy overpass on Powhite Parkway. As Hughes walked around his SUV to get a reflective safety jacket, a pickup truck slammed into him. Hughes was pinned between both vehicles, his legs crushed.
Brad Hughes lost both legs above the knee that night. He now uses a wheelchair or motorized scooter and cannot drive unless the vehicle is equipped with hand controls.
“Every day is a new path in life for me because I’m used to being able to do certain things and go certain places. I’ve always been independent. Now, I have to plan things out,” Hughes says. “There’s the emotional factor. I’m not the same person I was.”
The driver of the truck that hit Hughes testified in court that he was twenty feet from Hughes before he saw him. The driver was convicted of “driving too fast for conditions,” a misdemeanor, and sentenced to ninety days in jail with eighty-two days suspended. His license was suspended for six months, and he was fined $500.
In the years since the crash, Hughes has advocated for traffic safety, exploring the challenges and dangers of distracted driving and partnering with Drive Smart Virginia to take his message to high schools, businesses, and the military.
“There was never a clear determination about what the driver who hit me was focused on, but it wasn’t the road,” says Hughes. “My mission now is to help Virginia’s drivers see what distracted driving and bad driving choices can mean for other people in our community.”
Janet Brooking, executive director of Drive Smart Virginia, says, “Volunteers like Brad are essential to our outreach programs. Whether it’s helping at a high school distracted driving simulator event, working the registration table at our Distracted Driving Summit, or distributing our traffic safety materials, volunteers are fundamental to our success.”
According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, 208 people died in Virginia in 2017 due to distracted driving – an 18.2 percent increase over 2016. The top three distracted driving categories include: eyes not on road; looking at a roadside incident; and texting or other use of cell phones.
“Cars are safer, our roads are safer, but traffic fatalities have been trending higher over the past few years,” Brooking says. “Clearly, distraction is a factor.”
Brooking and her staff are aware that drivers of all ages engage in these dangerous driving behaviors. As part of the nonprofit’s effort to educate beginning drivers, Drive Smart transports its distracted driving simulator to high schools throughout Virginia. “We also give traffic safety presentations to businesses, organizations, and military commands,” Brooking says. “Each September, the summit in Richmond focuses on preventing distracted driving through advocacy, enforcement, corporate policies, education, technology, and research.”
Hughes says he has enjoyed working with the military in workshops and presentations to share the traffic safety message with service members.
“Last year, I spoke to more than a thousand soldiers – the crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln,” Hughes says. “After I spoke, several sailors told me that they had lost a friend or loved one due to distracted driving, drunk driving, or excessive speed.” Hughes, who has experienced the devastation that can come from distracted driving, gets a great deal of satisfaction from his work in education and outreach with Drive Smart. “I knew I was really getting to them. It was eye-opening for them as well as me.”
If you want to commit to helping reduce the number of crash-related fatalities and injuries on Virginia’s roadways, you can sign the Drive Smart Pledge. Your name will be added to Drive Smart’s list of individuals who have pledged to help make Virginia roadways safer.
To learn more about volunteering, to support education efforts, and to take the Safe Driving Pledge, visit DriveSmartVA.org.