Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Tragedy Spurred Lawyer’s Mission to End Distracted Driving

• Plaintiffs’ lawyer embarks on a teen education program after daughter's death • End Distracted Driving presentation given to nearly 400,000 participants so far

By Steven M. Sellers, Bloomberg BNA 

Tragedy profoundly changed plaintiffs’ lawyer Joel Feldman’s life, and he’s worked ever since to help other families avoid the same sorrow.

Casey Feldman, Joel’s 21-year-old daughter, was struck and killed by a distracted driver in 2009. Two years later, Feldman, a shareholder in the Anapol Weiss law firm in Philadelphia, created End Distracted Driving to help keep drivers’ eyes and minds on the road.

He also switched gears professionally, focusing primarily on distracted driving cases.

The program, known as “EndDD” and funded by the non-profit Casey Feldman Foundation, has a mission—raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving—both for teens and adults.

“If we are worried about distracted driving and our children, there is something we can do about it—role model safe driving and be the drivers we want our teens to be,” Feldman told Bloomberg BNA.

EndDD’s interactive presentation explains how distractions impair a driver’s ability to react, challenges multitasking, and demonstrates how far a car can travel during a glance at a smartphone.

Nearly 400,000 teens and adults across the country have heard EndDD presentations since 2011, said Feldman, who earned a master’s degree in counseling after Casey’s death.

Presenters in the program cover the spectrum of lawyers and other professions. In addition to plaintiffs’ lawyers, “there are business lawyers, insurance defense lawyers, a couple of judges, business people, college students, a fair number of nurses and injury prevention coordinators,” Feldman said.

“A school is never charged for this,” said Feldman, who estimated he’s personally given presentations to about 100,000 students at colleges, high schools, and middle schools around the country.

The program is science-based to convey the message to teens as clearly as possible.

“When we came up with the presentation, we had people from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia helping, Feldman said. They included “experts with respect to behavior change, psychologists, pediatricians, and teen messaging experts.” Feldman said.

Feldman balances his personal injury practice and the program, limiting his litigation focus to distracted driving cases.

“I am so thankful for my law firm,” Feldman said. “They basically said, ‘Do what you need to do with respect to distracted driving, and to the extent you want to practice law or don’t, that’s fine with us.’”

New Distractions

On-road distractions continue to put both motorists and pedestrians at risk, Feldman said, and government statistics back him up.

Distracted driving claimed 3,477 lives in 2015 alone, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The types of distractions have changed since the creation of EndDD six years ago, but they still include anything that takes a driver’s mind away from driving.

“When we first started the program, people would talk on their phone, and maybe text on their phone, but they weren’t Snapchatting, they didn’t have Waze, they weren’t doing videos, and there was no FaceTime,” Feldman said.

He also pointed to an “explosion” in smartphone ownership over the past five years.

The program has had an impact, based on participant questionnaires before and after presentations.

“We were pretty successful on the driver side, but not as successful on the passenger side in speaking up when the driver was driving distracted,” he said.

The program has been tweaked over the years to hone its message, and a new online participant survey will be launched soon.

“If we can get the right message out there, and get rid of the stale messages, we can connect with kids and we can change how we all think about distracted driving,” Feldman said.

Feldman welcomes any lawyer interested in spreading the word.

“We need more lawyers speaking to teens about distracted driving,” he said. “We have done a lot so far, but just touched the surface.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven M. Sellers in Washington at ssellers@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com

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