Smarter Driving: A personal crusade goes national

When Joel Feldman received the phone call on July 17, 2009, his life changed drastically. His daughter, Casey Feldman, had been hit by a distracted driver as she walked a crosswalk at a four way stop sign intersection when the driver reached for his GPS.

She was transported to the hospital where surgeons worked to save her life. The moment Joel saw the looks on their faces when they came out to speak with him, he knew Casey had died.

This event led Joel and his wife, Dianne Anderson, to begin the Casey Feldman Memorial Foundation, which later spawned EndDD.org, their campaign to get the message out about the hazards of distracted driving and its effect.

EndDD.org is an organization with 250 volunteers who speak across the United States about the risks of distracted driving. They have presentations geared towards students, parents and businesses striving to get their audience to understand how they can reduce the injuries and deaths related to distracted driving.

Joel hopes the statistics will change, but as he stated in an interview with me, in 2009 alone there were 3,200 deaths and 400,000 injuries from distracted driving. In 2017, those numbers had not changed.

Joel feels all of us could do better in getting the message out and reducing these statistics.

“People who drive distracted often, and have not yet been in a crash, don’t think it is dangerous for them, but all of us complain when we see someone else in the next lane driving distracted,” he said. “Today, if you survey people, ‘What are you more afraid of on the road: drunk driving or distracted driving,’ distracted driving is the clear winner.”

So how do we appeal to people who have not yet been in a crash and don’t truly understand the hazards? EndDD presentations educate differently based on the audiences. Speaking to school students, when asked if their parents drive distracted, 70 to 80 percent of the kids raise their hands.

When speaking to parents in an evening presentation at schools, Joel would ask, “Raise your hands if you would do anything to keep your children safe.”

“Predictably, all of their hands are raised,” he said, “and then I would say ‘Keep your hands up, but only keep them up if you haven’t driven distracted with your kids in the car.’ Virtually all the hands go down.”

At every presentation, Joel shows a video of a bus driver texting while driving. When asked, parents will say it’s dangerous and risky while the students will say it’s selfish and disrespectful.

This is how Joel learned, by listening to these kids, the most important aspect of safer, smarter driving is respect. So now he asks in his presentations, “What does it mean to you to respect others? How is driving down the road with others respectful if you are texting?”

Teaching respect is an opportunity for change.

As Joel explains, “Isn’t it our job to protect ourselves and our passengers? How can we do that and be a defensive driver looking at our phones? Driving distracted is disrespectful.” The specific message for teens and parents alike is to have more respect for the other drivers on the roads.

We lose respect for others when we get behind the wheel. Take an extra five minutes to get to your destination. Let the driver next to you yield onto the highway when you can. Stop at the stop sign, behind the crosswalk if there is one, and look before continuing. Follow the speed limits.

There are so many ways to show respect. Parents: become a good role model for your kids. Respect begins at home.

Thus far, EndDD volunteers have spoken to 450,000 kids, and by next spring they will have reached a half million teens in 46 states. Joel personally has spoken to teens in 32 of these states.

The next goal is developing presentations for the elementary school level.

Why start so early?

As Joel explains, “We teach kids about fire safety. We teach kids about drugs. We teach kids about yucky cigarettes. We teach kids about environmental things. They can learn it.

“What we are hoping, and some studies have shown us, is the NAG power of little kids once they learn it. ‘Mommy, that’s distracted driving!’ ‘Mommy, put your phone down!’ ‘MOMMY!’ To get some peace and quiet, they will.”

Joel is looking for schools to help pilot the introduction of this elementary level program to fully develop it for 2020.

There is a parental component to this plan as well. “The parents are going to learn if they drive distracted, studies show their kids are almost three times as likely to also drive distracted.”

It is very difficult to break a habit, and to drive distracted must not become a habit. However, we all drive distracted in one way or another. Talking on the phone, programming a GPS, texting, emailing, eating. These are all things Joel admitted to being guilty of until Casey’s death.

Yet it wasn’t until three months later that it really sank in for him. He was still doing it.

As he explains, “I was walking the dog, it was in October and there was frost on the ground, and all of a sudden, I was so angry at (the man who killed Casey, I realized), ‘Wait a minute, he was reaching for his GPS. You’ve texted. You’ve emailed. What’s the matter with you?’

“And it hit me what a hypocrite I was, and that’s the day … my daughter’s death changed the way I drive.”

Joel uses the “Do Not Disturb” feature on his phone now and puts his phone away while driving.

Respect for our fellow drivers, a cultural awareness of this issue, and ways we can improve ourselves, can be the turning point to begin reducing distracted driving fatalities.

In my next column, I will be writing about the loss of Ben Labonosky and how the motorcycle community looks at the issue of distracted drivers. Until then, please go to Joel Feldman’s website, EndDD.org.

Lee Edwards of Niantic has been involved in the transportation industry for two decades. He can be reached at leeaedwards@atlanticbb.net.

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