The following article was reprinted from the Bucks County Courier Times. Click here to read the original article and watch the video.
Posted: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 9:46 pm | Updated: 11:13 am, Wed Apr 9, 2014.
By Vic Monaco Correspondent
There was a lively engagement between Joel Feldman and the 600 or so students in the Pennsbury East High School Auditorium for more than an hour Tuesday afternoon.
But there were a few times when his comments drew dead silence.
“I was a distracted driver until my daughter was killed by a distracted driver,” Feldman said.
“The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell her little brother his big sister was dead,” he later added.
Casey Feldman was 21 when, according to her father, a 58-year-old man reaching for his GPS hit her as she walked in a crosswalk during the day in Ocean City, N.J. Since then, the Philadelphia-area lawyer has developed an awareness program he and other attorneys present nationwide to students, and indirectly to their parents.
He spoke to four full auditoriums of students Tuesday, following similar presentations to another 1,200 Pennsbury High students last fall.
Feldman quickly acknowledged the problem isn’t a teen-only issue. He asked the students to get their parents to join them in signing a Family Safe Driving Agreement he handed out. Among other things, it asks the signees to drive without sending or receiving texts. For those who sign, there will be a random drawing for $25 gift cards.
Among the many statistics presented by Feldman is that texting takes a driver’s eyes off the road an average of four seconds, which translates to 300 feet on the road.
One student told Feldman that while her mother asks her to put her cellphone in the glove box, the mom uses Facebook while driving.
“It gets really, really annoying and it’s really a double standard,” she said.
Feldman urged students to be independent in this regard.
“You don’t have to drive like your parents. You can drive safe,” he said. “Each and everyone here can save lives.”
He pointed to a National Safety Council study that shows hands-free devices don’t change things.
“It’s a false sense of security it gives us. We are still cognitively distracted,” he said.
At one point during the program, Pennsbury High School senior John Leventry found himself stumbling all over the front of the auditorium.
Falls school resource Officer John Yeager had John and another student wear goggles that simulate intoxication. The students were asked to perform what may have seemed like easy physical tasks.
“Everyone was moving. Nothing was clear,” said John, who is president of the Awareness Teen Advisory Council for local youth from grades six to 12.
Feldman said using a cellphone while driving is the same as having a blood alcohol level of .08.
“I’m here 28 years and I have picked up a lot of body parts,” added Yeager. “It’s brutal, man.”
Tuesday’s science-based program, which included video interviews of those touched by the accidents caused by distracted driving, was done as a kickoff to Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The organizations represented and sponsoring the event include PennDOT, EndDD.org (founded by Feldman), Lower Makefield Citizens’ Traffic Commission, the LYFT Prevention Coalition of United Way of Bucks County, St. Mary Medical Center, Bucks County Safe Kids and the law firm Anapol Schwartz.
After the second program of the day, LYFT director Tim Philpot said, “We feel it is important to remind students about how deadly it can be to divide their attention while driving.”
Sue Herman, of the traffic commission, said, “We believe changing driving behavior is one of the best ways to make our roads safer.”
Senior Pooja Patel, vice president of ATAG, said she thinks the presentations will make a difference.
“I don’t think everybody realizes the danger,” she said. “Hearing it from someone who lost their daughter is touching and impactful. I think it left a big impression on everyone.”