NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - What would you do if everything you’ve ever worked for was stripped away from you in a matter of seconds?

That’s the question one Tennessee man was faced with during his freshman year of college. Now, he’s using his platform to change lives.

A decorated athlete all throughout high school, Fletcher Cleaves was ready to begin his college football career. Then a head-on crash changed everything.

“I look at the road and see this lady. The road curves and she doesn’t — she keeps straight. She’s looking down at a device, not paying attention. So she crosses the double yellow line and I panicked. I swerved to miss her and overcorrected,” Cleaves said.

Cleaves hit the guard rail and flipped into an embankment. The roof of his car caved in and Cleaves' neck broke in two places. 

The crash, caused by distracted driving, paralyzed Cleaves from the chest down. The doctors told him he would never walk or play football again. Instead of sulking, he reverted back to his football mentality.

“We’ve all heard the sky is the limit. I like to push people to think outside the box and say, ‘How can we say the sky is the limit when there’s footprints on the moon?’”

Now a motivational speaker, Cleaves uses his story to raise awareness and challenge teens to stay focused behind the wheel.

“It’s a big responsibility,” he said. “When you’re behind the wheel, you’re responsible for everybody in the car. So you need to be paying attention.”

Michelle Anderson of the National Road Safety Foundation says that phones aren’t the only culprit of distracted driving either.

“The truth of the matter is common things such as touching the gauges on your car to adjust the heat or air conditioning can certainly cause distraction,” Anderson said. “You’re taking your eyes off of the road for even three seconds, which at highway speed, means you are traveling the length of a football field.”

Anderson says distracted driving crashes are the highest they’ve been in 13 years.

“Of those 42,000-plus deaths, there were 3,142 in 2019 alone that were attributed to distracted driving,” Anderson said.

To learn more about Fletcher’s story click here to go to his website.

To read more about distracted driving from the NRSF click here.  

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