Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Joy of Keeping Kids Alive

Recently I heard a story that went like this:

A special education teacher planned a field trip to the beach for his students. Many of them had a difficult time sharing emotions, so he prepared an activity that would help them to do so in an appropriate way on this adventure. This involved writing words in the sand and inviting students to share what the word meant to them.

One of the words was "joy," which sent a student running in ever-expanding circles across the beach, singing, dancing, and leaping all the while.

The teacher asked the boy why he was running all over the beach to describe joy. The boy replied, "because joy is so big that there is not enough room for it."

This child describes something that we all know somewhere inside ourselves - that joy is indeed bigger than ourselves. It can be hard to describe, but we know it when we experience it and when we see it in others.

You might wonder, what does joy have to do with neighborhood traffic safety?

A simple joy is to experience children at play - running, laughing, playing games, riding bikes - just enjoying friends, sisters, brothers in yards, on sidewalks, in
parks, and driveways. The energy and smiles allow us to appreciate what it is
to be a child with few cares and concerns, except to put
every ounce of their energy into play.

These moments help us to recall our own childhood, perhaps when it seemed that we, along with our friends, had the run of the neighborhood. Our playground may way have covered blocks of real estate. And the cost of it all? Just our time, energy, and passion for play.

Thinking back to my own experience of joy and play, I am reminded that we were ever mindful of traffic. There seemed a natural interaction between children playing and motorists. We watched out for each other.
It is the essence of care - watching out for each other - that is at the heart of what the mission of Keep Kids Alive Drive 25 is all about. We can live this care in our neighborhoods today by creating an environment that puts the safety of children first and foremost in creating an atmosphere that encourages and celebrates play. To do so, we must each do our part. This means:
  • As parents we teach our kids how to safely negotiate neighborhood streets - how to "Stop! Take 3 To See," how to respect boundaries of playing in yards, parks,and playgrounds, leaving the street to motor vehicles and bicycles.

  • As motorists, we commit to "Be Aware! Drive With Care" each and every time we get behind the wheel and drive through the neighborhood, and beyond. This means that we too must "Stop! Take 3 To See," and to "Keep Kids Alive Drive 25" (drive the posted speed limit or even slower when we see children at play, cyclists, skateboarders, etc.). It is up to us to be mindful of our behaviors while driving. In doing so we work to create a safer environment for ourselves and everyone we encounter along the way. After all, no motorist wants to be be behind the wheel and hit another humanbeing. Yet, when we speed, run stop signs, distract ourselves with cell phones and gadgets of all sorts, food, grooming, and more, we put ourselves in danger of being that driver who hits someone. Data from Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute demonstrates that the 3 seconds before a collision (with a person, another vehicle, or other object) is the critical time that dictates what will or won't happen. If we are speeding, texting or talking on a cell phone, eating, grooming, or any other non-driving activity, we put ourselves and others in harms way.
  • Developers play a role as well. When new neighborhoods are built or older neighborhoods take on transportation concerns, designing streets, sidewalks, and trails to promote safety for pedestrians, cyclists, and children at play must take top priority. When we put moving motor vehicles at the center of a plan, we fail our children and ourselves. After all, neighborhood streets need never be all about getting from point A to point B as fast and with as few impediments as possible without regard to the "human factor" - the reality that neighborhoods have everything to do with people, and the opportunity to have as high a quality of life as possible. Creating safe neighborhood streets through engineering, law enforcement, and educating towards safe driving behaviors has everything to do with people.
When we put all these pieces together, we are ready to truly heed the words of David Townsend, whose 11 year-old daughter, Tia, died as a result of a motorist who decided not to stop at stop sign and allow her and her friend to finish crossing the street in a marked crosswalk.

"Don't let the 2 minutes you 'save' be the last 2 minutes of someone's life."

Let's all commit to doing what is in our power to do today to keep ourselves and others safe on every neighborhood street, and beyond, in every community in our country (and even the world). In doing so, our lives will indeed be more enjoyable, less frantic, and we will have many opportunities to share joy with the ones we love and the ones who love us. And may these joys continue to radiate in ever-expanding circles on every neighborhood street in your community.

In safety,
Tom Everson
Keep Kids Alive Drive 25