Remarks for National Work Zone Awareness Week Event
April 8, 2003 – Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C.
Speaking for ARTBA and Turning Point: Roadway Work Zone Safety for New Drivers Campaign
Setting high goals and achieving them is thrilling. I am fortunate. I had the thrill of representing the United States of America in three Olympics. I was blessed to win individual medals in the ’92 and ’96 Olympics and, with my teammates, win the gymnastics gold at the ’96 Games. These were huge victories after many years of training, setting goals and competing. Through it all I experienced many turning points when I faced decisions that affected my career and life.
With gymnastics competition over, I have been able to participate in many other challenging and fulfilling endeavors. My turning points continue as I continue to set goals, work hard and pursue my dreams. But a great tragedy occurs when so many young lives are needlessly cut short and young men and women do not get a chance to work on their goals and dreams.
Each year, more than one thousand people die in crashes in roadway work zones; over 37,000 more are seriously injured. Eight out of ten of those killed are motorists; some have just started to drive. Just as their long-sought “freedom” through driving begins, many young people fail to realize that orange road warning signs indicate hazards ahead; and they take too many chances, drive too fast or become distracted.
Two years ago tomorrow, an Urbana, Illinois, teenager named Serena crashed in a highway work zone and was killed. Just days later, another local teen–Anna–was killed in a work zone crash on a different area highway. Only a few weeks had passed when a car containing five young men–three of them students at Anna’s high school–crashed in a work zone on the same highway that had claimed Serena. The five young men were headed for the spring culmination dinner of their Campus Life youth group. Adam and Tyler died. Adam’s younger brother, Ethan, and the remaining two passengers were seriously injured. Later that same month, 17-year-old Carl of nearby Danville, Illinois, lost his life in a work zone crash.
None of them thought they would die or be seriously hurt when they set out driving on those spring days. Grieving families and friends, and the injured survivors, hope that their stories and their pain will be used for some good–to prevent others from having their lives cut short, and their dreams come to an end.
I am honored to begin work this year with the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, the Federal Highway Administration, the National Safety Council, and others to promote safety for new drivers in roadway work zones. Our campaign theme is “Turning Point.” When new drivers get their license, they’re at a turning point in their lives. They need to deal with this turning point in a positive and responsible fashion–by recognizing the hazards and making the right decisions every time they drive–especially when they drive through work zones. Their driving decisions can turn their lives completely around for the worse…or keep them headed safely on their way.
I am volunteering my time to this worthy effort to help prevent other young people from compromising their dreams and cutting short their lives through a tragic crash.
Over the next several months, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and its partners will distribute ROADWAY WORK ZONE SAFETY KITS to driver education teachers, schools and others. Each kit will contain instructional materials designed to help teachers, parents and students better recognize and understand the dangers of roadway work zones–and how to drive safely through them.
I am proud to be part of this campaign, because there are many goals and many dreams for young people to achieve. I want all their turning points to be positive ones.