One of the main speakers at an Ocean City High School assembly on the dangers of distracted driving spoke candidly Tuesday about driving while using a cell phone to order takeout pizza ... then driving while eating his pizza. He talked about adjusting a GPS device while driving, and then about his frustration with a new car that wouldn't let him do the same.
The speaker was Joel Feldman, father of a young woman killed in Ocean City by a distracted driver. Casey Feldman would have turned 24 on April 6. But on July 17, 2009, a driver who was reaching for an iced tea on the passenger side of his vehicle struck and killed Feldman as she walked across Central Avenue at 14th Street. The vehicle that killed her had just stopped at a stop sign on the other side of the intersection.
The dual images of Joel Feldman as distracted driver and as grieving father helped hammer home a message about the small margin between common distractions and tragedy.
The assembly was sponsored by the Ocean City Police Department as part of their Distracted Driving Awareness Week (April 15 to 21), which also includes a zero-tolerance campaign on Ocean City streets. Feldman and his wife, Dianne Anderson, co-sponsored the event. Juniors and seniors — 80 percent of whom are drivers, by a show of hands — attended the program at two different times during the school day.
Anderson spoke of her daughter, a graduate of Springfield High School (Delaware County, PA), who was working a summer job in Ocean City before starting her senior year at Fordham University. Like any 21-year-old, Casey Feldan had great hopes and dreams, Anderson said.
"Our hope is that none of you will have to meet the same tragedy," Anderson said.
Traffic Safety Unit Sgt. Brian Hopely delivered a presentation that described distracted driving as "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving."
He described various manual, visual and cognitive distractions that range from texting to applying makeup. He estimated a car traveling 55 mph would cover more than the length of a football field during a five-second text message — plenty of room for disaster.
A large part of the program was dedicated to suggesting practical steps to eliminate distracted driving — discouraging parents from multitasking while driving, confronting peers or volunteering (as a passenger) to text, answer calls and manage music players, so drivers can concentrate on driving.
Students left the assembly with a "contract" to be signed by students and parents. The contract asks students/parents to refrain from distracted driving, and students who return signed copies will be entered in a drawing for three $50 gift cards.