This week I had the privilege to speak at the Teen Driver Safety Summit. I was especially impressed because the Summit was organized by Maddie Seel, a junior from Shaler High School who experienced firsthand the devastation of fatal car accidents. Her brother's best friend was killed, and despite her great loss, she decided to honor his memory by raising awareness about the importance of safe driving.
A former Shaler graduate also shared a testimony about a close friend who was killed in 2008 on Route 19. She received a text while she was at a sleepover that her friend died in a car crash. Her boyfriend was the driver and was speeding. The tragedy happened a little over four years ago, but the scars are deep. Friends and family still mourn the girl's death every day.
After these two testimonies, the audience of about 200 local high school students fell silent. They hear the words "drive safely" often, but these two ladies' stories hit home in a very powerful way.
The next speaker was State Trooper Robin Mungo. She has been serving on the force for years, but she said the hardest thing she's ever had to do was to tell a mother and father at 3 o'clock in the morning that their child was never going to walk through the front door again. The reason? A car accident. Officer Mungo was a dynamic speaker, and her message hit home. A vehicle can be a weapon, and collisions nearly always happen because someone makes a mistake…they're not usually ‘accidents.'
What was also impressive about the Teen Driving Safety Summit is that the students were encouraged to take action after listening to the speakers' messages. Nearly 100 students signed our Safe & Sober pledge. They talked with Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Injury Prevention staff and drove the DUI simulator. They broke into groups and actually discussed what it means to be a safe driver, created slogans, and envisioned programs that they could put into action at their school.
During the past 40+ years that I've been helping injury victims, I've had the opportunity to talk with thousands of students about the dangers of distracted driving and drunk driving. I never get tired of doing it, because car accidents still occur every day. One of the group's slogans said it perfectly: "One choice. One decision. One life." Driving safely is a choice. Make the right one – and it could mean the difference between life and death. Thanks to the Teen Driver Safety Summit, local students may think twice before talking on a cell phone, driving drunk, or riding in a vehicle without their seat belt.