Before July 17, 2009 I had never heard of Distracted Driving Awareness Month. For that matter, even though I am a lawyer who has represented hundreds of families in distracted driving cases over the years, I regularly drove distracted. What changed on July 17, 2009? My 21-year old daughter Casey was killed by a distracted driver. Because of Casey’s death I stopped driving distracted and have devoted the bulk of my professional time working to reduce distracted driving through our organization EndDD.org
When I began working on traffic safety issues in 2011 there were far too many traffic tragedies and far too many families suffering, but fatalities were steadily decreasing each year. As a result, through April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month’s activites each year many of us hoped that perhaps, we were contributing to that decline. Sadly, that downward trend in fatalities abruptly reversed in 2015 which saw the largest annual increase in highway deaths on a percentage basis in about 50 years. Preliminary estimates for 2016 indicate deaths increased yet again and, that for the first time in about 10 years, more than 40,000 of us died on our roads.
So I am approaching April differently than in past years. If in the past I believed I was in some ways partly responsible for decreasing fatalities, don’t I now need to accept some of the responsibility for increasing fatalities? What more can be done and could I do to save lives? When asked why I publicly talk about Casey’s death I tell people that the magnitude of her loss is lessened if, by telling her story, lives are saved, especially young lives. As a result, I pledge to work even harder this year to save lives.
This April will be the busiest April yet for EndDD.org. We will officially release an on-line an interactive educational distracted driving quiz next week.
We have partnered with the American Association for Justice (AAJ) to have its trial lawyer members continue to speak at high schools across the country, all without cost to the schools. We have spoken with about 50,000 students since September 2016 and have talks scheduled in April, May and June and will reach thousands more students before school ends in June.
We will be releasing an animation that illustrates that while looking away from the road to text or tweet at 55 mph we travel more than the length of a football field. The animation will be used in presentations to teens and adults across the country.
We have partnered with Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), and my law firm Anapol Weiss, in sponsoring a national video and meme contest, “Friends don’t let friends drive distracted.” We know that teens are creative and can be very influential in keeping their friends safe so we eagerly look forward to seeing all of the entries and announcing our winners in April.
We are also working on an on-line survey that can be administered before and after programs so we can measure the effectiveness of our programs and make improvements.
We hope and pray that all of us will reflect on the way we drive and make changes if necessary so that we will lose less of us on the roads in 2017 than in 2016.