Widow honors husband by helping prevent distracted-driving accidents

ROANOKE -- Javier Zamora was a lot more hands-on than many dads. While his wife worked as an air traffic controller, Zamora, an Army helicopter door gunner, embraced a more domestic role, making sure his kids ate properly, wore nice clothes and did their schoolwork.

"He was Mr. Mom. He was their foundation," widow Jennifer Zamora of Roanoke said of his relationship not only with his three biological children but also with a daughter of hers from a previous marriage.

But Javier Zamora, who served in Iraq and lived to tell about it, was cut down back in the United States by a driver fumbling with a cellphone. He was killed in 2007 in Southern California when his car was struck head-on by one driven by a woman who was reaching between the seats for her phone.

Jennifer Zamora will share the family's story Thursday in San Antonio during a Texas Distracted Driving Summit. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is scheduled to speak, and experts will talk about scientific studies on distracted driving and what politicians and phone and auto manufacturers are doing to curb it.

Zamora, a Lockheed Martin air traffic controller at Alliance Airport in far north Fort Worth, will be on a panel of survivors who will discuss what it's like to live with the loss of a loved one -- to a preventable accident.

She said talking about his death, while painful, "provides a little bit of comfort. I truly believe it's a way of honoring Javier. You don't want others to experience the grief that you've experienced in any way, shape or form."

The summit is presented by USAA, a Texas-based military financial services provider, and by the Texas Department of Transportation and Shriners Hospitals for Children.

An expert's view

One of the summit's main organizers is a former Grapevine resident, Jennifer Smith of Chicago, whose mom, Linda Doyle, was killed in a 2008 Oklahoma crash involving a young driver on a cellphone. Smith has become a national expert on the issue and often advocates for tougher laws against talking and texting while driving.

She also wants more employers to ban employees from using mobile devices behind the wheel.

Now that the dangers of such driving are better-understood, Smith said, the next step is for police to enforce the law more.

And she said safety groups can step up their public-service campaigns to ensure that drivers' awareness remains high.

April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the state Transportation Department has bought radio spots and billboard space for ads with the slogan "Talk. Text. Crash."

"We've got a long way to go, but we've also come a long way," Smith said. "People need a daily reminder. They can go to an event and get their heartstrings pulled and stop for a couple of weeks, but they get back into the habit."

Besides LaHood's appearance and testimony from survivors of crash victims, experts will take part in panel discussions about the latest technology, corporate policies on mobile devices and public officials' willingness to forge change.

'Thousands of crashes'

More than 9 percent of fatalities are linked to driver distraction, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said, and instances may be underreported because drivers involved in crashes don't want to admit using a mobile device.

Companies such as Ford have introduced technology such as SYNC, which can read e-mail or text messages aloud and allow a driver to reply by voice.

Many motorists' perceptions about the danger remain skewed, said Carol Rawson, the Transportation Department's operations division director.

About 54 percent of motorists still believe that their driving ability is unchanged while they talk on the phone, according to a recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study.

But in Texas, she said, nearly 1 in 4 crashes involves a distraction, and mobile devices are among the most common problems.

"We're encouraged that the numbers are slightly lower, but distractions behind the wheel are still causing thousands of crashes each year," Rawson said. "No text or phone call is worth your life or the life of anyone else."

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson