ITLA members steer teens from trouble on the road

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

Terre Haute attorney Steve Williams concedes that a lot of people will have to do a lot of things to stop the enormous problem of distracted driving.

Cell phones, text messages, eating and talking to other passengers can take the driver’s attention away from the road and, combined with the speed cars now travel, tragedy can result.

The Indiana Trial Lawyers Association’s College of Fellows joined the effort to stop the problem when it started offering the End Distracted Driving – Student Awareness Campaign in 2012. Members met with teenagers around the state and gave a PowerPoint presentation about the dangers of inattention behind the wheel.

williams-steve.jpg Williams

Although the ITLA originally planned to offer the distracted driving project for just one year, the comments and positive reactions from teenagers, teachers and parents have inspired the organization to continue going into high schools for another school year.

“We wanted to help with the problem, and we feel like we are helping,” said Williams, president of the ITLA College of Fellows. “As trial lawyers, we feel like we’re very well prepared to do this kind of thing because we do it every day.”

The ITLA fellows decided to focus on distracted driving after member Neil Comer’s granddaughter was killed while texting and driving. They have partnered with the Casey Feldman Foundation; EndDD, which is sponsored by the foundation; and 60 for Safety to present the campaign to Indiana teenagers.

Williams credits the success of the project to the PowerPoint presentation created by the Casey Feldman Foundation. The foundation was established by Philadelphia attorney Joel Feldman, whose daughter, Casey, was killed by a distracted driver.

The presentation, Williams said, is custom made for trial lawyers used to talking and trying to persuade juries and judges.

National trend

Not surprising, trial lawyers say they are dealing with more cases that involve distracted driving. More and more, root causes of auto accidents and collisions are linked to drivers multi-tasking when operating a vehicle.

“It’s a very common element in a lot of different cases nowadays,” Williams said, “because this problem is so prevalent.”

Distracted driving is not limited to cell phone use and texting. According to the 2011 National Phone Survey on Distracted Driving Attitudes and Behaviors, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, many activities can potentially draw a driver’s attention from the road ahead.

The most common are driving while talking to other passengers, adjusting the car radio, eating and drinking, making or accepting phone calls, interacting with children in the backseat and using a portable music player.

Williams defined distracted driving as “anything that takes the attention away from the primary task of driving.”

Among the key findings of the survey: A majority of respondents (66 percent) stated they typically kept driving when they received calls. Also, many (45 percent) held the phone while driving instead of using a hands-free device.

The activity of texting while driving is higher for those under 25. According to the survey, 44 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds and 49 percent of 21- to 24-year-olds were likely to send texts while behind the wheel. This compares to 26 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds, 29 percent of 35- to 44-year-olds and 8 percent of 45- to 65-year-olds.

As these statistics reflect, young adults can test the limits of behavior or may not consider the consequences their actions can have. Moreover, they are often stereotyped as uninterested in what their elders say.

Richmond attorney David Burton believes taking the time to go into the schools and make the presentation is worth the effort.

“Even though you think teens are going to do what they are going to do, they are still impressionable,” Burton said. “Maybe it’s possible to try to alter their habits.”

He compared the growing current situation of distracted driving with the prevalence of drunken driving 40 years ago. Through the work and public awareness campaigns of organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, society’s attitudes changed.

Similarly, he thinks the social and moral consequences of driving distracted will have to be emphasized in order to dramatically change the behavior of teens and adults.

The PowerPoint brings out some of the social and moral aspects by focusing on the ethical obligations teen drivers have, Burton said. Without shaming the teenagers, the presentation highlights that the choices they make while driving could have implications for themselves, their passengers and other drivers on the road.

Powerful PowerPoint

kehoe Kehoe

The program is designed not only to get teenagers to change their behavior, but also to encourage them to talk to their parents, siblings and other relatives about the dangers of distracted driving. The teenagers are encouraged to become leaders and educate their families.

Attorneys have described the 50-minute presentation as “powerful.” It is based on psychological and sociological research to appeal especially to teenagers.

The presentation includes video clips and opportunities for interaction by role playing and asking the students questions. In addition, the Casey Feldman Foundation added a video about Comer’s granddaughter to make the PowerPoint more relevant to Hoosier students.

Bruce Kehoe, partner at Wilson Kehoe & Winingham LLC, noted the presentation is “one of those events you don’t walk away from without being touched.”

From his presentation at Centerville Senior High School, Kehoe remembered a young man in the audience who talked about his father, an emergency room physician, who texts all the time. The student said he was going to go home and tell his dad what he had learned.

Kehoe chose to give a presentation at his alma mater, Centerville.

“I just really enjoyed the experience,” Kehoe said. “I was really so pleased and impressed with the level of attention and engagement they gave.”

Afterward, he received a handwritten thank you note from the school’s principal that mentioned many students came to school the next day sporting the black “End Distracted Driving” wrist bands.

Williams maintains the project is having an impact. Since giving the presentation at Vigo County high schools, Williams said students have stopped him on the street and parents have written him letters, telling him how much the program meant to them. Even the students at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology were enthralled when they saw the PowerPoint.

For the second year, ITLA plans to do more outreach to schools, enabling more students to see the presentation.

“Our obligation is to educate young drivers about the dangers of distracted driving,” Williams said, “so they can make intelligent decisions not to drive distracted.” •


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.