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Distracted driving is a choice. So choose not to do it.

April 13, 2017

Photo: Sylvie Tikalsky cries as she describes how much she’ll miss her grandpa Joe, who was killed by a distracted driver.
​Photo: Sylvie Tikalsky cries as she describes how much she’ll miss her grandpa Joe, who was killed by a distracted driver as he walked to his mailbox to get the morning paper.

Think for a moment about a favorite relative of yours – perhaps a parent or grandparent. Now imagine that person going outside to get the paper as they have thousands of times before. Then think what it would be like to find out that, during that simple, mundane act, your relative was killed by a distracted driver.

That’s what 17-year-old Sylvie Tikalsky thinks about every day. Her grandpa, Joe, had donned his bright yellow safety jacket to go to his mailbox in New Prague when he was struck and killed by a woman texting and driving. Sylvie cries as she describes how much she misses her grandpa – how sad she is that he won’t see her graduate from high school. “Texting and driving is dangerous,” Sylvie says through her tears, “And you need to make the decision not to text and drive.”

Unfortunately, too many people are making the opposite decision. Texting and driving citations continue to climb here in Minnesota. In fact, since 2012, texting and driving citations have increased 251 percent. In 2012 there were 1,707 tickets; last year there were 5,988.

“No other family should have to go through this, to get that knock on the door,” says Donna Berger, director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety. “That’s what we really want to do is change that behavior: just think before you do it. Just make that conscious decision to change before you turn that car on.”

Sylvie hasn’t always understood how dangerous it is to make the decision to text and drive. “Before the driver who texted killed my grandpa, I didn’t really think anything of texting and driving, and to be honest, I thought it was something cool to do.”

But Sylvie, her family, and the community whose lives Joe touched now know how incredibly dangerous texting and driving is — and it doesn’t matter where you do it. “Distracted driving fatalities can happen on any roadway, anywhere. Please remember that,” implores Le Sueur County Sherriff Dave Tietz, who is a longtime friend of the Tikalsky family and had the heartbreaking task of informing them of Joe’s death.

Joe was 79, a New Prague School District bus driver for almost 50 years. He was beloved by the kids who rode his bus, some of whom are speaking out against distracted driving in his memory. Joe’s son and Sylvie’s dad, Greg Tikalsky, is doing the same: “I can remember my dad under a blanket lying in the ditch, or I can honor his memory by trying to make changes. And one option seems a lot better than the other to me.”

Through April 23, law enforcement officers throughout the state will be on high alert to  ticket and educate distracted drivers. But enforcement is only one part of the solution. “We cannot enforce our way out of this problem,” says Lt. Robert Zak of the Minnesota State Patrol. “We need every motorist to take responsibility for their actions and put the distractions away.”