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Tragedy to Advocacy: A Journey

Written by: VIJAY B. DIXIT, CHAIRMAN, SHREYA R. DIXIT MEMORIAL FOUNDATION

November 1, for most of it is a mere date in a calendar. But it gives shudders to my family and my friends, a day that they cannot forget. November 1, 2007 was an earthquake that shook everything around us. It was the day that plucked right from our arms, the youngest member of our family, Shreya. A driver on that ill-fated day was not paying attention to driving, the primary task at hand. Instead, she got distracted, caused a fatal crash, cutting short Shreya’s life just six weeks after she turned 19.

Since then November 1 has become a nightmare for us and its annual visits personify the most unwelcome guest one could expect.

The 11th visit this year was no different. However, I noted that something had changed. What was it?

  • About 4000 more have died on Minnesota roads in the last 11 years
  • New forms of driver distractions have joined the long list of killer behaviors
  • Distracted driving is no longer a tongue twister that it was in 2007

But a few positive developments have also taken place.

Important among them are:

  • Awareness about distracted driving has increased
  • Grass-roots advocacy has taken hold for combating all forms of distracted driving
  • 6 states now have hands-free laws in place as a protection against misuse of electronic
    devices by drivers

Thanks to improved public awareness campaigns and tougher enforcement, crashes have generally followed a downward trend. Historically speaking, in 2007 traffic fatalities stood at510 but last year the total fatality count dropped to 358. Let us not get too excited. Take last year. At this time traffic fatalities were 289 but this year that number has gone up to 305. If the same trend continues we could exceed 358 in 2018.

That is rather discouraging.

But the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation is turning the tragedy of losing Shreya into an advocacy for saving lives from the epidemic of distracted driving through education. What started as a teen led Distraction-free Driving Club (DDC) concept in my book: One SplitSecond, is now a movement that has been gaining strength.

In the past two years, Eden Prairie High School (EP) and Benilde St. Margaret’s School (BSM) have shown the way by deploying the club model in the two schools. Their success was noticed by the local media, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) and corporate leaders in the state. TheFoundation in collaboration with DPS expects to start new DDCs in Central and South EastMinnesota school districts. That summer, the Foundation funded four summer internships at EP and BSM High Schools to design and produce a Guide Book for establishing and operating Distraction-free Clubs at other schools in the state. The following describes the Guide Book content:

1. Overview

a. Describing the epidemic (overall statistics of the population)
b. Shreya’s Story
c. Foundation History
d. Teenage Distracted Driving Behaviors

2. How to start a club?

a. Where to start?
b. Who to contact?
c. Raising awareness/approaching peers
d. Establishing Leadership Team
e. Constitute Committees
f. Partner with other clubs
g. Personal experiences and tips

3. How to engage broader community
4. Current Activities/Projects

a. Eden Prairie High School
b. Benilde St. Margaret’s School

The Shreya Foundation seeks to engage other schools in the state to join the movement for building a distraction-free driving culture in the state.

If you are a teacher, parent or a youth driver, let us get together and abolish distracted driving from our midst forever.

Please write to me at vijay@shreyadixit.org

I will wait to hear from you.

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