Stop Texting and Driving
"The road was a straight shot, only one curve in it," he recalls. As he approached the bend, he looked down at his phone to see that a friend had texted him. "We were just joking around. I was still typing," he says. Then his girlfriend screamed. "And that's when I looked up."
Just in time to catch sight of bicyclist Jim Price, 63, slamming into his windshield, shattering the passenger side window and denting the hood of his Chevy Cobalt. Patrick—who, like his girlfriend, was unhurt—jumped out of the car. "I checked him and didn't get a pulse, so I called 911. I was in panic mode, shock," he says quietly. "The crying came later."
Three days passed when word came that the victim, an athletic cycling fanatic and the married father of two grown daughters, had been taken by his family off life support and died. "That," says Patrick, now 19 and attending Metropolitan State College of Denver, "is when it really sunk in."
He isn't the only one who has come to understand the risks of texting while driving—especially for teens. Investigators say texting may have caused the horrific June 26 accident in upstate New York that killed five young women. In May, Washington state became the first to pass a law prohibiting drivers from texting behind the wheel; a handful of others are debating similar bills. Two recent studies estimate that a third of young drivers text message from behind the wheel. And another, released last year, found that typing on a cell phone or handheld device triples the risk of a crash. "Teens are inexperienced, don't exercise the best judgment in the world. Eighteen- to 20-year-olds have five times more inattention-related crashes and near-crashes than other age groups," says researcher Charlie Klauer. "So when they text message and their eyes aren't on the road, it's even worse."
For Patrick, the implications are no abstraction: "Jim Price is not around anymore because of me. I still think about the accident every day."
Sims faced a year in jail for his role in the crash. Instead, in February 2006, with Price's family urging leniency, a judge sentenced him to 10 days in jail, a $3,000 fine, three months' house arrest, and no cell phone or driving for an indeterminate time. He was also ordered to perform 300 hours of community service to encourage safe driving. Two weeks after sentencing, he found himself before a hostile audience at a local bike club, nervously explaining what had happened that fateful day. "They were still angry," says one observer, Price's friend and neighbor Ralph Goodman. "The talk didn't help."
At that point, Sims thought back to his first court appearance in December 2005 when he stood in a Colorado courtroom as the charge ("careless driving resulting in death") was read. Afterward, as his mother, Judy, and father, Merl, a landscape foreman, walked out of the courtroom, they turned to see Patrick stopped at the front row, speaking to Price's widow, Shirley. Through his tears, "I kept telling her how sorry I was," he says. "She took my hand and said she forgave me because it was an accident."
Sims decided to begin using that same heartrending honesty in his weekly presentations at area high schools and clubs. One who finds that approach compelling is Goodman. "From the beginning, Jim's family wanted Patrick to accept responsibility," he says. "Patrick didn't try to get out of anything. It was his attitude that changed my view of the accident."
For Sims, who is now driving again, but under restriction, the message is simple. "He tells his listeners that he wakes up every morning and realizes he's responsible, not just for this man's death, but for all the far-reaching people who loved him," says Rebecca Ellsworth, who lost her 14-year-old son Brian in 2003 in a car accident caused by teen speeding and now often speaks alongside Sims. "Patrick is an all-American boy who found himself in a situation he never thought he'd be in. He reminds me a lot of my son."
To date, there have been some signs that Sims's message is sinking in. Jared Roux, 19, who heard Sims speak, says that he no longer texts at the wheel and cautions his friends against it too: "I tell them, 'Is it worth a life, or even an accident? Just call them back.'"
But it's those who aren't listening that Sims has decided to focus on. "It would be amazing if I could touch everyone," he says. "But I pray that at least one life is saved because of my story."