By Guy Loranger *
George Jebaily likes to live by the motto: “If you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.”
When it comes to the problem of distracted driving, Jebaily is doing what he can within his community to be a part of the solution through his work with The Casey Feldman Foundation and its signature project, EndDD.org.
Jebaily is one of EndDD.org’s 700-plus trained volunteer speakers. In recent years, he has delivered numerous EndDD.org-crafted presentations to audiences in and around Florence, South Carolina, where he practices personal injury law as the Managing Partner of Jebaily Law Firm, P.A.
A member of the Florence City Council, Jebaily also recently introduced a resolution recognizing The Casey Feldman Foundation and designating April 2016 as “End Distracted Driving Awareness Month” in the City of Florence. The resolution passed unanimously last month, with wide community support.
“I’m just trying to do the little things I can do in my own small way,” Jebaily says. “I believe I can help to get the message out, create awareness and let people know: This is something that has become an epidemic. It’s up to each of us to do something about it.”
Joining the Fight to End Distracted Driving
Jebaily says he has long been concerned about distracted driving. As a lawyer who represents victims and their families, he has too often seen how distracted driving crashes “shatter lives.”
“And just as a citizen, I see it more and more,” Jebaily says. “I’ll be at an intersection and see someone just mosey on through a red light with a cell phone to his ear, or I’ll see someone putting on makeup in the mirror while going down the road. It’s really unbelievable.”
But it wasn’t until Jebaily and his daughter met Joel Feldman and his wife, Dianne Anderson, while attending a conference three years ago in Clearwater, Florida, that he learned how he could go beyond his role as a lawyer and parent to do something about the issue.
The couple’s daughter, Casey, was killed by a distracted driver in 2009. She was 21 years old at the time. The couple went on to establish The Casey Feldman Foundation and EndDD.org, with the goal of creating awareness and educating the public about distracted driving and, hopefully, changing attitudes and behaviors.
“I remember we were sitting down at dinner, talking, and I had my own daughter sitting right next to me at the time,” Jebaily says. “If that doesn’t drive it home and make it real, I don’t know what does.”
Inviting Others to be Part of the Solution
Feldman, a lawyer himself, encouraged Jebaily to become a presenter of the EndDD.org awareness program which he developed – and continues to refine – based on input from experts at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
To date, the program has been presented in more than 45 states and Canada, and it has been heard by more than 475,000 participants. It has also been adopted by several organizations across the country, including the South Carolina Association for Justice (SCAJ) in Jebaily’s state.
Michael E. Gunn, the SCAJ’s Chief Directing Officer, estimates that between 60-70 members of the state’s largest trial lawyer organization are now involved in giving EndDD.org presentations, including Jebaily. The program has reached more than 10,000 students, workers and others in South Carolina over the last three years, Gunn states.
“Our members are ideal for giving these talks, because they are emotionally attached to the issue by the nature of their practice,” Gunn says. “They can put their own personal spin on it.”
Indeed, an important aspect of the program lies in the delivery of the message, Feldman says.
Speakers must avoid lecturing or “talking down” to participants – especially when they are teenagers. Instead, speakers have to relate to participants and invite them to be a part of the solution.
“I could tell with George that he was a natural, great communicator. He is a very likable guy, very down to earth, and he is comfortable talking with people. He has all the right qualities for this program,” Feldman says.
“With high school kids, I knew he could connect with them, and he would run with it – and you can see he’s done that in all of the talks he’s given.”
Jebaily says the program which Feldman designed is highly effective, and it is one that has become “like second nature to me.” As Feldman encourages EndDD.org speakers to do, Jebaily has tailored the program to fit his own style.
For instance, he often asks participants to share their encounters with distracted driving – “Students like telling on their parents,” he notes – and he shares his own experience of working with distracted driving victims as an attorney.
“As I’ll tell them, I think we all know someone who believes they can get away with talking on the phone when they are driving because they are skilled or experienced drivers – like Mario Andretti going down the road – but they are not,” Jebaily says. “What they are is lucky. And if you push your luck hard enough, it will catch up to you.”
He concludes each presentation by asking participants to sign the EndDD.org Family Safe Driving Agreement, a checklist of simple steps that can be taken to avoid being a distracted driver. He also asks them to take the agreement home and get their family members to sign it.
While it is certainly important to reach drivers at a young age, the EndDD.org program’s message can connect with older, more experienced drivers as well, Jebaily says.
“Distracted driving is about all of us and how we all have a responsibility,” says Jebaily, who recently gave an EndDD.org presentation to school bus drivers in Columbia, South Carolina. “It’s not just a teenager thing. It’s an all of us thing.
“Ultimately, it’s about me, too, and my own behavior. I admit: I have been a distracted driver,” he adds. “Whenever I give a talk, it reminds me of what I need to do, too. I have to choose not to talk or text when I am driving … It is up to each of us to accept accountability.”
Encouraging Signs of Support
Jebaily says that it was a natural extension of his work with EndDD.org to introduce to the Florence City Council the resolution recognizing The Casey Feldman Foundation and designating April 2016 as “End Distracted Driving Awareness Month.”
The City of Florence Chief of Police, Allen Heidler, supported the resolution. Additionally, two SCAJ representatives – Director of Membership & Development Lena R. Smith and Past President Rodney Jernigan Jr. – attended the Council meeting to express the SCAJ’s gratitude to the Council for passing the resolution.
In the coming weeks, Jebaily says, he will work with local media to publish editorials on the dangers of distracted driving – and how each of us, individually, can play our role in solving the issue.
Seeing the efforts of volunteers such as Jebaily is encouraging, Feldman says.
“I can’t bring my daughter back, but I can help to make a difference in her name. I know we are saving lives,” he says. “And I appreciate how fortunate I am to see the support we get and to see people like George who are making a difference in their community.”
Jebaily encourages fellow lawyers and others to become involved with EndDD.org by registering as a speaker and joining the effort to end distracted driving in their own communities.
Says Jebaily, “I’m sure there are many others out there just like me.”
* Guy Loranger is the Web Content Editor for Consultwebs.com. A native of South Bend, Indiana, Guy graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1995 and worked for several years as a sportswriter. He earned his law degree from the North Carolina Central University School of Law in 2007 and joined the reporting staff of North Carolina Lawyers Weekly. He is a licensed North Carolina attorney who has served on the N.C. Bar Association’s Citizen Lawyer Commission.