By Jim Siegel - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)
WBNS-10TV sports anchor Dom Tiberi, joined by family and a pair of Ohio State football coaches, followed up an emotional video yesterday with moving testimony today, urging more awareness of distracted driving.
On the evening of Sept. 17, Tiberi’s 21-year-old daughter Maria was traveling 53 mph when she struck the back of a stopped semi and was killed. It is unknown why she didn’t stop.
“But we do know this: We don’t want Maria to be just a statistic. We don’t want her death to be in vain,” Tiberi told a Senate committee, after describing what it was like to hear the doorbell ring at 2:25 a.m. and find seven police officers standing on his front porch.
Tiberi urged the committee to pass a bill designating September as Safe Driving Awareness Month. Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, who shared a hug with Tiberi after the hearing, sponsored the bill to shed light on Maria’s life and bring attention to the importance of safe driving.
In the wake of his daughter’s death, Tiberi has founded Maria’s Message, a campaign to create awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and make defensive driving courses available to young drivers. Soon, he will begin going into high schools to talk to students and hopes to bring along driving simulators. He also wants to create scholarships for students to attend defensive driving classes.
In addition, he hopes adults will set better examples behind the wheel.
“My message is, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone,” he said.
John Born, director of the Department of Public Safety, said 16 fatal crashes last year, and nearly 2,800 crashes in total, involved a driver distracted by a phone or texting. However, he said, those statistics are likely significantly underreported.
In April, Born said, the Highway Patrol and law enforcement across the state will undertake a high visibility enforcement campaign focused on distracted driving, including texting.
“No one deserves to lose a loved one because of distracted driving,” he said.
Ohio lawmakers in June 2012 passed a law banning texting while driving. The law also prohibits anyone under age 18 from operating an electronic device while driving.
Showing support for Tiberi, former Ohio State football coaches Earle Bruce and John Cooper testified in support of the bill. Bruce recalled his days years ago as a drivers education instructor in Salem. “When someone takes their mind off of driving, you’re in trouble.”
Letters of support were written to the committee by Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, Archie Griffin, Athletic Director Gene Smith, legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, and Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards.
“We want to celebrate Maria’s life by protecting the lives of others,” Tiberi said. “We don’t want other parents to live the nightmare we’re living.”
©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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