In the wake of COVID-19, Joel Feldman of EndDD.org has been met with a new and unique challenge: With the inability to give in-person distracted driving presentations, Feldman has had to grapple with getting the safe driving message out while the majority of the country remains in quarantine.
After losing his daughter, Casey, to a distracted driver in 2009, Joel Feldman has given more than 700 safe driving presentations across North America to various schools, conferences, and businesses. Speaking to nearly 200,000 teens and adults, Feldman has made a significant difference in making our roads safer — a difference that is not worth being put on hold. “We knew that we couldn’t go to businesses and traffic safety conferences. As schools began to close, we also had to cancel our talks. The country began to shut down, but the problem still remains: People are still dying in crashes. We knew that we had to do something, especially since there’s new data suggesting that distracted driving has gotten worse,” Feldman explained.
Following the nationwide stay-at-home orders, Feldman and EndDD have faced the challenge head-on, keeping the momentum of the distraction-free driving message alive. Taking advantage of the downtime occasioned by canceled presentations, EndDD has solidified its elementary school program, a child-to-parent distracted driving intervention program designed to teach young children to speak up when feeling unsafe in the car. This program has sparked nationwide support, even garnering the attention of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is now involved in researching its efficacy. Lesson plans for grades 2-6 are available without cost on EndDD.org and there is also an accompanying picture book for K-2 available online. Feldman held a free nationwide Zoom webinar for high school students in May and has given multiple online safety presentations at schools and businesses since then.
However, the momentum doesn’t stop there. The move online has actually introduced more opportunities to get the safe driving message out and return to a sense of normalcy. “As we are returning to speaking to businesses, and with the move online, we actually discovered an unexpected benefit. In the past, if only a certain number of people could attend, those were the ones who would see the presentation. Now, we can send materials in advance and record the presentations so all employees can receive our message,” he explained.
Feldman recently gave a virtual safety presentation at the Spire Safety Summit, a corporate responsibility initiative by Spire Energy to protect its employees both at work and in their personal lives. After hearing his presentation, Manager of Safety Colby Lenz said, “In my career, I have had the luxury of hearing speakers talk all over the US and some very good speakers, but your presentation was extremely impactful and eye-opening for me. It was truly one of the best, if not the best, presentations I have been able to listen to. Instead of looking for things to apply to our safety culture and learn from, it made me want to do better as an individual in everyday life, and truly become a better driver, safer driver.”
In fact, the adult population is more likely to drive distracted than new teen drivers. With this in mind, EndDD distracted driving presentations for businesses are an impactful tool in getting employees to home and work safely. “Businesses care about their employees — not only when they’re on company property. Businesses also care about the families of their employees. All of us, young and old, can use reminders to keep us and those we care about safer. Our goal is to make everyone aware of their driving habits, and hopefully to get them to rethink their behaviors,” he added. In accordance with this mission, Feldman asks for whom he does presentations to provide a donation in an amount of their choosing to EndDD.org, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, to further spread the safe driving message across the nation.
As many businesses have transitioned online and employees work from home, unfortunately, safety messages in areas of our lives unrelated to COVID-19 have fallen through the cracks. Yet, the safe driving message remains equally, if not more, important: “People are tired of feeling cooped up. States are in the process of reopening. Regardless of what’s happening, people are increasingly getting on the road, and everybody has a role to play in keeping our roads safe. We all have people we care about and love and want to get home safely. If we all do the right thing, more and more of those loved ones are going to come home safe.” Key to the distraction-free message is a concept, or value, most of us hold dear: respect.
Respect for others is one of the most important messages in Feldman’s presentations, and is more relevant now than ever before given the COVID-19 crisis. In light of the pandemic, there is actually a unique opportunity to highlight respect and responsibility in the context of distracted driving. “The biggest excuse people give me before a presentation for continuing to drive distracted is, ‘I’ve never been in a crash before, I’m a safe driver and it won’t happen to me,’ and the same thing can be seen in the example of wearing a mask. You may not feel sick, but you wear a mask to protect others — It’s a sign of respect. If everyone wears masks, fewer people will get sick and we can go back to our normal lives,” Feldman said.
He continued, “The same thing goes for distraction. Show respect for those you share the road with by putting your phone away. By showing respect, you give up distractions, and when you give up distractions, you save lives. Wearing a mask and giving up distractions are both the right things to do.” In 2018 alone, 2,812 people were killed due to distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. EndDD fights to lower the number of these preventable deaths, emphasizing both respect behind the wheel and the power of speaking up when feeling unsafe in a car.
“With these presentations, we see people who want to make a difference, regardless if they’ve been personally affected by distracted driving, and I’ve learned that it’s not unique to grief — it exists when we are challenged. Right now, our world is very much challenged. We’re discovering that we’re all in this together and with this context in mind, I hope that more people will begin to realize that when it comes to driving.” Following the recent 11th anniversary of his daughter Casey’s death, Feldman reflected on his journey, saying, “You go through a process when your child is killed. You know that your life is never going to be the same, but you can’t imagine what your life, after the death of your child, will look like. But for me, working with others is a good way to remember Casey, and I’m optimistic we can get to the point where nobody has to go through what we did.”