Thursday, February 24, 2011

Imagine Being Driven to Keep Kids Alive?

Can you imagine being at the funeral of the father of a friend?

Can you imagine that your friend steps up behind the pulpit to share a eulogy in honor of her father?

Can you imagine her sharing the following?

"My father taught me about how precious and wonderful the gift of life is. You might even say he drove me to it. How did he do this? In a million little moments when he...

...stopped at every stop sign and looked left, looked right, looked left again to make sure the coast was clear. He didn't want to be responsible for hitting a child who suddenly appeared to cross the street while riding a bike, chasing a friend in a neighborhood game, or a neighbor out for a jog.

...never broke the speed limit. We used to pester him to "go faster, go faster. No one will know." But he was always steady in his commitment to observe posted speed limits and to go slower when he saw kids at play, people out walking, when cyclists and skaters were out and about, or when the weather took a turn for the worst. He always said, "Don't let the 2 minutes you think you are saving by going too fast be the last 2 minutes of someone's life." He knew that we all come home to loved ones and what a sad tragedy it would be if someone could not come home to their loved ones.

...never followed too close. He always kept at least a three second cushion between himself and the vehicle in front of him. He taught me that it is the three seconds before a crash that makes all the difference. If you follow to close, you can't react to how others are driving. He would say, "It's not a race, so create space."

...never texted while driving. In fact, we never saw his cell phone when he was in the car. He stashed it in the glove compartment to keep us all safe. We had many great conversations as we drove around town or on trips together. He never let a cell phone distract his attention from the road, from the family he loved, or from every motorist he encountered along the journey.

...always wore his seat belt, even on short trips to the store. He said that "seat belts are fastenating." Why? Because they help to keep us alive so that we can return safely to the ones we love. He made sure that every one in his car was buckled up before backing out of the driveway or pulling away from the curb.

...used his blinker for every turn and every lane change. He just considered it a common courtesy to communicate his intentions to every driver around him. I remember one of his favorite expressions, "be a thinker, use your blinker."

...always did a complete walk-around of the car before backing out of the driveway or a parking spot. He wanted to make sure that no little ones, or even bigger kids, were anywhere near the car. He had read too many accounts of kids who died as a result of being backed over by their own parent, brother, sister, or neighbor, or other loved one.

...never drank a drop of alcohol and then got behind the wheel. He told us that at any one time of day that between 1 and 3 percent of motorists are driving under the influence. He reminded us that this was another reason to create space between ourselves and other vehicles. We couldn't control what others do behind the wheel, but we could leave ourselves enough space to react to how others drive.

....slowed and came to a complete stop whenever that amber light flashed its warning. He also made sure the coast was clear before proceeding when the light turned green. Again, he knew he couldn't control everyone else's behaviors, but he could do all he could to keep himself and others safe. And so he did.

...waved others in whenever there was a need to merge. He would always smile and wave them in. I think it even helped a few drivers reduce their stress as they would smile and wave back in thanks.

It may seem odd to share these as memories of how Dad taught me to respect my own life and the lives of others, but the road was a classroom in which he taught me so much about the preciousness of each and every person we encounter on the road of life - whether family or friend, or a stranger - a friend we have not yet met.

Dad was always committed to doing all he could to keep kids alive - no matter what their age or where they lived. The street in front of your home was as sacred to him as the street in front of our own.

I ask only one thing as we remember Dad today, and that is for each of us to imagine all that is in our power to do to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and the loved ones of others alive each and every time we get behind the wheel or ride as a passenger in a motor vehicle. Once you imagine it, do it! Dad would love it."

And imagine that this daughter shared her love for her father in the wake of his death due to a driver's carelessness -speeding, talking on a cell phone, running a stop sign, going out of control, jumping a curb - and flying into him while he was out for a walk with his grandkids in the neighborhood.

And now imagine yourself doing all that is in your power to do to make sure you are never that driver.

What you don't have to imagine is where to visit to get the resources necessary to make your neighborhood a traffic-friendly environment for all who live and visit. Just visit

"Don't let the 2 minutes you 'save' be the last 2 minutes of someone's life." David Townsend (Tia's dad)

In safety,

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Question of Safety - Neighborhood Traffic Safety

I recently heard from a resident in a Texas community who is working with their neighborhood association to lower limits on neighborhood streets to 25 mph (down from the state mandate of 30 mph).

One piece of research that supports their efforts is a report from the General Database of Police Reported Accidents (NHTSA, 1999) which showed that the death rate for pedestrians in 30 mph zones is 3X that of the death rate in 25 mph. Since neighborhoods are typically where kids play, people of all ages walk and ride bikes, it makes sense to create as safe an environment for all who live and visit. After all, in addition to none of us wishing to experience the injury or death of a loved on due to a traffic incident, none of us would want to be behind the wheel and hit someone as well. Creating the safest roadway environment possible takes a concerted effort on the part of each of us - practicing safe driving, pedestrian, cycling, skateboarding, etc behaviors.

A few questions come to mind to assist neighborhood or city organizations committed to neighborhood traffic safety. Here are a few to consider:

  • What is the purpose of traffic in a neighborhood? Is it to move as quickly as possible or to move us safely to and from our home and family while respecting the lives of all we encounter along the way? (In Europe a concept called "Home Zones" is actively promoted. "Home Zones" see neighborhoods as being safe places for children to play, pedestrians to be out and about, and cyclists to move about safely as well. Motor vehicles are welcome as "guests" into "Home Zones" - that is they are expected to behave as a guest would when visiting your home, taking extra care to be courteous in observing speed limits - and going slower in the presence of people of all ages out and about in the neighborhood- as well as observing stop signs and all rules of the road.) Would your neighborhood want to promote a "Home Zone" type environment that respects pedestrians, children at play, and motorists alike?
  • What kind of environment do residents want to see on neighborhood streets? Do we want one that commits to a quality of life that promotes residents walking, riding bikes, and children out playing?
  • What role does parenting play, alongside motorist behavior, in creating safe environments for all impacted by traffic in the neighborhood?
  • What possibilities exist to engage schools, businesses, and civic organization in supporting neighborhood traffic safety?
  • What opportunities exists to work in collaboration with local law enforcement, public works, and city planning to develop comprehensive approaches to neighborhood traffic safety?

In short, take advantage of opportunities to be proactive in creating a safe traffic/pedestrian environment for all who live in and visit your neighborhood. This certainly beats being reactive. I have worked with dozens of families whose neighborhoods only took up traffic safety concerns in the wake of a tragic death due to speeding, stop-sign running, or other behaviors. Taking action to prevent tragedy may never yield statistical results since it is impossible to know whose life was saved due to diligence in creating a safe traffic environment for the benefit of all. Perhaps a resident, and transportation engineer for the Texas Transportation Institute says it best when he wrote the following one year after his city - Coppell, TX - lowered their residential limit to 25 mph and utilized "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25" as an educational process to engage residents in changing their behaviors in observing the new limit.

"My community – Coppell, Texas – made headlines two years ago as it tackled this issue. As a traffic engineer by training, I was hesitant of lowering the limit and adopting Keep Kids Alive Drive 25. I lobbied the City Council to consider other engineering, enforcement, and education alternatives so that ‘mobility’ was maintained. I have to say that since this program was adopted and the speed limits on our streets lowered (5 mph) I do feel like I am keeping my village’s children safer, that I am more alert, that I am more in control of my vehicle, that I do share those streets with pedestrians, that my ‘mobility’ has not been greatly impeded, and that streets are not for the sole purpose of drivers in vehicles trying to make their way as quickly as they can in our hurried world."

Jason Crawford, P.E -

Texas Transportation Institute

Tom Everson
Keep Kids Alive Drive 25