I'm writing this on a plane returning home from Orlando, where I participated in the 30th annual Lifesavers Conference.
What is Lifesavers? It's one of the premier national highway safety meetings in the U.S. that is dedicated to reducing the tragic toll of deaths and injuries on our nation’s roadways. More than 2,000 people attended, representing Federal and state agencies, state and local police, for-profit and non-profit advocacy groups like AAA and MADD, healthcare organizations.
Why was I there? I was representing one of my clients, the National Road Safety Foundation, which produces traffic safety education materials aimed at teens and distributes them free to schools, educators, police, health groups and directly to teens through groups like SADD.
The luncheon speaker Friday was David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (for which I also do media relations work in the metro New York area). Before being appointed as NHTSA Administrator, David had worked as a legislative aide and advisor in Washington and he had some involvement in traffic safety-related initiatives.
But, he told us, when he became the head of NHTSA he began learning firsthand of the terrible annual toll of traffic crashes -- so many of them preventable. He heard many personal stories of families devastated by crashes -- people who may go on with their lives, although their lives will never be the same.
And David Strickland told us how this job has become so much more than a job to him. It's become a personal passion and a commitment to save lives and prevent heartbreak from traffic crashes.
I'm sure many of the people in the audience felt that same way. I know I do.
Of course, for those of us who get paid to do what we do -- whether the cop who is assigned to talk to kids in schools about the dangers of drinking and driving, or the hospital community relations person who takes similar messages into his or her community, or the people at state highway safety offices who use engineering, laws and enforcement to make our roads safer -- it's a job. But I know, from personal experience, that the work they do is about so much more than a pay check. We've seen the results of crashes; we've spoken with families who lost sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and parents.
Some of those families work to help others avoid the type of loss they've suffered. They do it, some of them, as a way to get past the pain and to make some sense of their loss. They are strong people. And when you get to know some of these people, it's hard to remain distant and disconnected from this work.
Those of us who are paid to do what we do can't help but feel a special sense of purpose.
As David Strickland told us, he sees it as "a calling."
I think he's right and I feel fortunate that my work has brought me into the world of traffic safety advocacy. I thank the National Road Safety Foundation and NHTSA for getting me involved. It's good work. It's more than a job.