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Making Safety Cool

Submitted by Shelley McKown on June 20, 2010 – 11:51 am 2 Comments

Many people live an entire lifetime without ever knowing their gifts. There are many ways to define ‘gifts,’ but here are a few possible definitions: a specialty profession requiring a high level of knowledge or skill; a character or physical trait; the ability to run a busy home full of healthy children who do well in school; a physical or mental ability; a high IQ; or maybe the ability to lead, motivate and inspire others. If you boil it down to simple logic, every human being is unique in genetic structure, so everyone has an equal chance to develop their gifts. Do you know what your gifts are? I’ve been very lucky in my life to know and work with many people who are aware of their gifts, and I celebrate when they share them with others for a good cause. One of them is Dean Kamen, an inventor who has significantly changed our world for the better. Dean founded a not-for-profit called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which inspires young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. According to Dean, ‘if you are not going to change the world, go back to sleep.’ This is my long version of You Can Make a Difference.

Human nature studies tell us that most of us strive to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves. Based on the results of worldwide campaigns for breast cancer awareness, drug-free schools, disaster relief efforts, and even television shows where millions of people call or text to determine the fate of the contestants, I’d say those studies are right on. I have worked with a foundation for over fifteen years and watched them grow from a local, grass roots idea to an international effort with an impact so tremendous that you can purchase cinnamon rolls in your local grocery store with their signature pink color and cause printed all over the packaging. How do all of these worldwide campaigns make such an impact? My theory is their leaders are very aware of their gifts, many whom consider life a gift, and they make their campaigns COOL.

My first week on the job at the National Safety Council, I was involved in a lofty discussion around safety advocacy. Three thoughts from that meeting resonated with me; (1) everyone has someone important in their life and if you could prevent them from injury or illness, chances are you would, (2) safety is a universal language that touches everyone and everything in our world, and (3) safety professionals are some of the most intelligent and hard working people I’ve ever known.

The coolest part about safety advocacy is everyone can join the party and it’s free! How do you start? Find a safety initiative important to you and OWN it. Use scientific facts to substantiate your claims and throw in personal reasons too. For ideas on how you can make a difference in safety advocacy, here are great websites to check out: www.nsc.org, www.asse.org and www.iihs.org.

Teen Driving SafetyMy personal safety initiative is promoting safe teen driving. If I’m not lecturing my fifteen year-old son about homework, then I’m rambling about new teen driver statistics. Apparently, I do this often since my ten year-old reminds me he has a few years before he’ll be driving. ‘Better early than late’ is my reply, as he rolls his eyes. For the most updated news on highway safety related laws, including the most current cell phone, texting or graduated driver licensing laws for your state, visit www.ghsa.org.

A few years ago, I spent time with families, who had lost their teenagers in automobile accidents. It is difficult to explain the unbelievable feeling of sadness you experience when you look into the mother’s or father’s eyes as they tell you about who their son or daughter was, and who their son or daughter would have been now if still alive. These parents did all the right things, but at the most critical moment, their teenage drivers made bad decisions behind the wheel, including the absence of their seat belts. Here are statistics you may or may not be aware of.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,

  • Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for American teenagers.
  • Seat belt use is the most effective protection against serious crash injuries, reducing your risk by fifty percent.
  • Nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million were injured.

On the economic side, traffic crashes cost the nation over $230 billion each year in medical expenses, lost productivity, property damage, and related costs. Imagine the impact of reallocating just $1 billion to your state! Who knows, maybe you wouldn’t be holding an IOU for your state income tax return.

On the personal side, it continually amazes me that most parents won’t enroll their children in additional defensive driver training above what their state requires (i.e., graduated driver licensing or GDL laws); that there are people who still don’t wear their seat belts every time they climb into a vehicle (although seat belt usage is much higher than it was ten years ago, over 80% now); and finally, that people continue to talk and text on their cell phones while driving (distracted driving). Ignorance is no longer an excuse! Millions of dollars have been spent on campaigns for these initiatives, yet we still see these horrible statistics.

According to the National Safety Council, the biggest single thing that will reduce teen fatalities on our roads is stronger GDL laws and parents’ enforcement of them. Parents can significantly decrease risk by talking to their kids about GDL principles and why they are so important. Driving safely is so simple: wear your seat belt, don’t drink alcohol or do drugs, don’t speed and don’t even TOUCH or LOOK at that cell phone. To all teenage parents, the best way to change their behavior is consequence. Don’t be afraid to take the keys and phone away. Kids are encouraged to make parents accountable as well. The old saying of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is just that…OLD. If you expect your teenager to comply, then set a good example with your own driving behaviors.

Hopefully, you will figure out your own recipe to make safety COOL in your life. My recipe is to figure out your gifts, be a part of something bigger than yourself so you can share them, find the science you need to support your advocacy, and tell all the people you care about. Oh, and along the way, always be the person your dog thinks you are.

Shelley McKown oversees the EHS compliance division for ICertainty INC and is a teen-driver safety advocate who promotes her cause at twitter.com/coolsafetychic.


  • Paul Ripley says:

    Excellent article indeed. Safety is such a huge element in all our everyday lives and people like you (and myself) are passionate about saving lives on the roads. The young are a huge target area that needs us all pulling together and sharing our experience to help where possible. We can get the message across that safety is cool and safety is king – I try everything possible to get that message across to anyone who will listen and constanly place driver/driving safety messages on my Twitter account daily http://www.twitter.com/Drpaulripley

    Let us together, keep the kids safe – they are our future and each one is precious to their parents. Parents lead, they follow, yet only if the example they set is a good one.

    Keep your excellent work up and good luck to you in the future.

    Stay safe – we can if we try and really want to!

    Paul Ripley
    001 1423 339 799
    Based in the UK but working on safety issues worldwide

  • Brian O'Neil says:

    Shelley,a refreshing piece that doesn’t shove it down parent’s throats making them feel inadequate. Your buddy in DC forwarded this to me, and as I read it on a plane to London, the woman next to me said “I didn’t know that was the #1 killer for teens. I have a teenage daughter.” So there you go, one more down in your relentless pursuit to change the world with your social do-gooding. Good thing there are some of you left; us bad law-benders need the affiliation to keep with good standing in the public eye. I had to post a comment since I knew it would make you smile. Next time you’re in Russia, you know I’ll be watching. Keep up the good work. p.s. tell Jon he missed a T in his name..must take more than a $500 million inheritance to spell your name right. BMK