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Girl warns against distracted driving after serious injury

By MaryJo Ola, mola@wisctv.com
Published On: Apr 09 2013 05:24:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 07 2013 10:20:27 AM CDT

Channel3000.com

Hannah Laufenberg, 17

HIGHLAND, Wis. -

Officers said they see it every day: people behind the wheel eating, on the phone, putting on makeup and focusing on just about anything but the road.

April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month, and one group called Just Drive is making an effort to prevent these incidents from repeating.

Seventeen-year-old Hannah Laufenberg is a spokesperson for the campaign.

On July 26, 2012, Laufenberg was on her way to her boyfriend's house with her brother Max, but a mile from their destination, when she took her eyes off the road to use her iPod.

Her car veered off the road and rolled over six times. She and Max were ejected from the car. They weren't wearing their seat belts.

Max suffered some bumps and bruises. Laufenberg, however, suffered a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma for three and a half weeks.

"This eye was completely closed. I couldn't even open it if I tried," Laufenberg said.

She lives in a rehabilitation clinic as she relearns basic skills such as speaking and getting dressed. Her parents said it was a nightmare.

"Having one of your children go through this, it's something you want to be there. You want to inflict all that pain on yourself instead of see them go through it [but] you can't," said Pat Kalmerton, Laufenberg's father.

"It's really hard, actually," Laufenberg said. "I had to relearn how to do everything, even how to sit."

Iowa County Sheriff Steve Michek said the fight against distracted driving can be tricky, because officers must catch the drivers in the act of texting or other activities.

These days, Laufenberg is doing better. She has become an advocate to stop distracted driving and shares her story of that July day.

Just Drive visits schools to remind students about the dangers distracted driving can bring. The group has students do exercises that simulate distracted driving to show how quickly a distraction can hinder their performance behind the wheel.

"I hope we get the message out there to teens, adults that you cannot be distracted in the vehicle. You have to take these distractions away," said Patty Hinderman, director of Just Drive and one of the nurses who cares for Laufenberg.

Laufenberg's parents and Hinderman said it will be a slow recovery, but they know the 17-year-old will pull through.

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