Although Tennessee qualifies as one of the safest states in the Union,the report still recorded 1,031 fatalities in the state due to automobile accidents in 2010. In an effort to lower this number,Nancy and Joe Polakiewicz,a mother-son team from Greenback,Tenn.,attended the report’s release Wednesday to speak out for teen auto safety.
The two became outspoken advocates following Joe’s own brush with death in October 2010. The family speculated that as Joe,then a 16-year-old junior at Knoxville Catholic High School,drove down Blount County’s Big Springs Road he looked down,causing him to veer,over correct,spin and slam into a tree on the opposite side of the road. The accident nearly took his life.
“My spleen and left kidney had to be removed,” he said. “I had fractures in my vertebrae,ribs and pelvis,and my urethra was severed from my bladder.” He still cannot remember the accident,but knows that if emergency responders had not arrived quickly he might not be here.
The report,generated by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety,follows all 50 states and the District of Columbia’s adherence to safety group’s grading scale.
“We evaluated the states on 15 basic traffic safety laws,” Advocates President Jacqueline Gillan said.
Tennessee’s ranking in the top 18 means the state has passed laws covering 10.5 or more of the suggested 15,including primary enforcement of seat belt laws. This law allows officers to pull drivers over if they aren’t wearing a seat belt. In some states,seat-belt laws can be enforced only if drivers are pulled over for other traffic violations.
The 15 traffic laws include:
- Three occupant-protection measures.
- Seven elements of a comprehensive graduated drivers licensing program.
- Four impaired driving laws,including ignition interlock laws for all offenders.
- An all-driver text messaging ban.
Unlike many who return to life as normal after similar situations,the Polakiewiczes see their luck as an opportunity to spread the word and raise awareness for teen driver restrictions.
“I just feel that Joe’s survival is a miracle,and maybe he survived for a reason,” said Nancy,49,a registered nurse in the cardiac rehabilitation department at Turkey Creek Medical Center in Knoxville. “I need to tell his story to prevent others from going through that.”
To this Joe added,“I don’t want anyone to lose everything they’ve worked for.”
Some of the worst-performing states in the study are South Dakota,with 3 points,and Arizona,with 4.5 points.
While Tennessee maintains a safer status than many of its counterparts,this does not mean it can stop pushing for further improvements.
Until all of the current measures are adhered to and possibly more,National Transportation Safety Board Member Mark Rosekind said,“The cost are the lives of people injured.”
Reach reporter Elijah Herington at [email protected] or 202-326-9865. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.