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Recently, a friend of mine and his family buried their 21-year-old daughter.  She died, alone, of blunt-force trauma in a horrific one-car accident on Interstate 35-E in Dallas.  At a high rate of speed, her vehicle ran off the freeway and hit a concrete pole.  What was the cause of death?  It wasn't a blown tire.  It wasn't a mechanical problem

She was texting while driving.

The tragedy of this beautiful young woman's passing is overwhelming because of its senselessness.  But since her death, I've become more aware of my own phone use while behind the wheel.  I'm not a big texter, but I've opened, read, replied to, and even written e-mails while driving.  It's no different than texting.  Dialing a phone call?  No different than texting.  Clicking or touching to check voice mail?  No different than texting.  And surfing the web from your phone while driving?  WORSE than texting!

So Friday night, on the way home from work, I heard the "ding" that indicated I'd gotten an e-mail, so I glanced at my iPhone to check it.  I didn't have my eye off the road for more than a single second but when I looked up, some schmuck had cut in front of me when I wasn't paying attention, and I had to slam on my brakes and veer onto the median to keep from hitting the idiot.  Cola sprayed all over the car, contents of my briefcase flew all over the back seat, and I was in a wordless frenzy trying to assign blame--until my self-awareness finally kicked in, and I realized that it was my own d*&# fault because I had allowed myself to be distracted from being the "Pilot in command" of my car.  Just as that beautiful young woman had, as she drove down I-35 that dark night.  Only in her case, it was fatal; in mine, it was just a wake-up call, with some auto interior cleanup needed to reinforce the message.

Some of you may have heard about Oprah Winfrey's "Take The Pledge" campaign to make the driver's seat of our cars a "No Phone Zone."  Folks--I'm taking the pledge.  And I hope all of you will take it as well.  As we move into this wonderful Holiday Season of parties, shopping, and general craziness, please spare yourselves, your friends, and families from the pain and sorrow of senseless loss due to stupidity behind the wheel.  Come on.  Take the pledge.  Join me and thousands of others!

I am asking each of you to please follow this link--fill the form out--and then live by it.  And if you agree with and join Oprah's "movement" to end distracted driving--please post a comment to me here on this blog.  Each of you are important to so many people, and (of course) to us here at Southwest Airlines.  And Southwest has so much planned for 2011 and beyond, you're all going to want to be here to enjoy it!  🙂

Thanks, Oprah, for teaching us to be better. (and, by the way, I’ll miss you!)  And thanks, y'all, for joining me in making our roads safer.  Happy Holidays everyone!