Seekonk Triplets Lead Distracted Driving Summit to Raise Awareness About Dangers of Texting While Driving
On a Friday last month, student leaders from around the Commonwealth gathered on Boston’s Beacon Hill. They were joined by faculty from their schools, law enforcement officials, members of state and municipal governments, and three young men from right here in Seekonk.
Matthew, Brian, and Timothy Salit were the directors of the Massachusetts Teen Distracted Driving Leadership Summit. “We got involved with this issue about a year ago. We’ve done a lot with the National Organization for Youth Safety,” says Brian Salit. The Salit’s are no strangers to the task of trying to keep their peers from distractions behind the wheel.
“We traveled to Colorado during April vacation to speak at the National Highway Safety Convention,” said Matt Salit. The brothers attended the national conference, which included the chiefs of each state police department in the country, as well as many other officials concerned with the issue of distracted driving. Matt and Brian were asked to speak on a panel in front of some 1,700 people at the event.
Many sponsors, both local and national, were essential to grouping together the necessary parties for this summit. Arbella Insurance brought their “Distractology Trailer,” a simulator not unlike the ones used by local fire departments to teach fire safety to children.
Though there were many sponsors, it was clear that Herb Chambers Honda of Seekonk went above and beyond. “With all their underwriting, the whole day was free for all the schools. Basically, the schools just had to transport the students to the state house,” said Matt Salit.
Six speakers highlighted the day for the eager group of students. Jeff Larson and Jerry Cibley of the Safe Roads Alliance were in attendance. Mr. Cibley is a Massachusetts native who tragically lost his son Jordan in a 2007, which happened while Jordan was talking on his cell phone and driving.
Wil Craig spoke on behalf of AT&T. Craig is 23 years old and the survivor of a brain injury. He was injured when he hit a tree at over 100 miles per hour because the driver of the car he was in was texting and driving.
Sandy Spavone, Executive Director of the National Organization for Youth Safety spoke at the summit. So did John Donohue, one of the founders of Arbella Insurance. Last but not least, the students heard from Dr. Donald Fisher, the Head of the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
For their part, the Salit brothers did not speak at length at the summit, but they do their fair share of talking about this important issue. The brothers got involved when a student from Greater New Bedford Voc. Tech., a young man against whom they had run track, passed away in a distracted driving accident. “We started out just worried about texting and driving, but it’s expanded to distracted driving. It’s important, because car crashes are the number one killer of teenagers in America,” says Matt Salit.
“These tragedies are very easy to prevent,” says Brian Salit. It may be easy, but has obviously taken some effort from people like the Salit brothers. In their travels, these local boys have met some very interesting people, including Ray LaHood, the United States Secretary of Transportation.
In the case of their summit here in Massachusetts, the Salits hope a viral concept of awareness can translate to efforts to end distracted driving. “It was a relatively small group of people at the state house, but the messages sent that day could reach up to 30,000 students across the state,” said Brian Salit. The hope is that they have attracted the right student leaders, and that those individuals are able to deliver the message effectively when they return to their schools.
The Salit brothers and the people they work with to raise this kind of awareness can only be helping. But there is one truth that Tim Salit spoke in his interview with The Reporter that other young people around the world have to accept if this problem is to be fixed. “Something as simple as texting and driving can change your life forever. It’s not that important, it can wait,” said Tim Salit.
Other sponsors who helped make the Massachusetts Teen Distracted Driving Leadership Summit possible included the Leadership Institute at Harvard College, Young’s Catering, Balfour, B&M Catering, Lojack, and the American Automobile Association.