Father uses story of personal tragedy to inspire teens to end distracted driving

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POSTED: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 2:01pm

Brusly High students have a new perspective on what it means to drive a car.

They got to meet a Philadelphia man on Monday whose daughter would still be alive, if not for a distracted driver. Now, Joel Feldman is turning his tragedy into a mission to save others.

"I'm so confident of this the more I talk to high school students," he stated, "high school students are going to change the way we drive."

Feldman and his wife, Dianne, speak to more than 100 school groups a year about distracted driving.

Some of the Brusly students admitted to putting on their makeup, talking with friends, or eating in the car. More frequently, though, they said they text and drive.

"Do you know that, when you're texting and you're driving, you're taking a chance?" he asked one student.

"Yes, sir," the teen replied.

"What's the chance?" Feldman pressed.

"I could kill somebody," the student responded.

Feldman knows that all too well. His daughter, Casey, was killed while crossing a street a couple in 2009. The driver who hit her was trying to adjust his GPS, was not paying attention to the road, and did not see her. Soon after, he was asked to aid the state of Pennsylvania with a distracted driving campaign. He found that speaking about Casey's death was healing. He scaled back his law practice to form a foundation in Casey's name and give presentations across the country.

"If we can do anything at all so that they'll be able to graduate, and they'll be able to go on and lead productive lives, then, it's what we can do," he said.  "We can't bring Casey back, so we have to do something to try to remember her, and this is a really special way of remembering Casey."

Most of the Brusly students said they watch their parents text and drive, even though the parents would likely claim that their children are the most important part of their lives. Feldman worked with the students on strategies to stop them from texting at the wheel, including a role playing scenario involving State Sen. Rick Ward (R-Port Allen).

"And you guys can be the role models for your mom and dad," Feldman suggested. "And, if you've got little brothers and sisters, and they watch you text and drive, what do you think they're going to do?"

Feldman admitted to the students that he is still tempted to look at his phone while he drives. He added that he used to drive distracted, until his daughter's death forced him to change his driving habits. His goal now is to make sure other people change their ways before it is too late.

"For a parent who's lost a child, I consider myself fortunate," he stated. "I go out, and I get to talk about my daughter; it makes a difference, I can see it in the kids' eyes.

"And I get feedback. I'm going to get a dozen emails from these kids because they have our website. They're going to send me emails, and some of their moms and dads are going to send me emails to say, 'you know what? I'm changing the way I drive. Thank you.' That's pretty neat."

Louisiana has laws against texting and checking social media while you're driving. Using a GPS and putting on makeup are allowed, though also dangerous.

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