‘It can happen to you’

Published 9:18 pm Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Every 24 hours, 15 teenagers die in automobile accidents. Six thousand a year.

Sadly, 70 percent of those could be avoided.

The statistics are as staggering as they are sobering.

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“Six thousand precious lives gone each year,” Bill Richardson, co-founder of “It Won’t Happen To Me,” told an audience of teenagers at Pike Liberal Arts School on Wednesday. “But heaven can wait.”

You could have heard a pin drop as the students watched as one picture after another of young people, who had lost their lives in car accidents, flashed on the screen.

The students sat almost motionless as Richardson told the story of each young person and how they died – needlessly.

Richardson is the co-founder of “It Won’t Happen To Me,” a non-profit corporation dedicated to reducing the number one cause of teen deaths – car crashes – through education and awareness.

Richardson told how, in the blink of an eye, a life could come to a violent end. He also told how that life could have been saved with a click of the seatbelt or a cautious glace at the highway ahead.

He told the story of a young man who took his eye off the road for just a split second to input a CD.

“Matthew Dwyer was trapped in the car,” Richardson said. “His two friends got out through a broken window, but they couldn’t get him out. They stood helplessly and watched as their friend was burned alive.”

Richardson said the moral of that story is don’t multitask when driving. And, that means no eating or drinking, no cell phones, no inputting CDs or doing anything that would be distracting from the task at hand – safe driving.

Richardson was emphatic about the use of seatbelts.

“Twelve thousand lives are saved each year by seatbelts,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard that someone might have died in a car accident if they’d had on their seatbelt. That could happen, but the chances are so miniscule that it’s not even worth mentioning. It would be about the same chance as getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery.”

Richardson told the students that having teenagers is tough on parents.

“Take into consideration that your parents want you to be safe and that they worry every time you walk out of the house and get in a car,” he said. “Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. It’s not supposed to work that way. Don’t make it work like that.

“Every time you get behind the wheel, the decisions that you make affect other people. Remember that.”

At the conclusion of the program, Sgt. Benny Scarbrough, Troy Police Department public information officer, spoke briefly to the students.

“You are about to make history here at Pike Liberal Arts,” Scarbrough said in reference to the Patriots’ State Championship football game on Friday. “But don’t make another kind of history. Be here to enjoy it. Don’t cut it short.”