Educating Young Drivers

April 20, 2023
GDOT and the Lutzie 43 Foundation are trying to save the lives of future Georgia drivers

By Gavin Jenkins, Senior Managing Editor 

Philip Lutzenkirchen, a standout tight end at Auburn University, died in a single-vehicle crash where he was a passenger early in the morning on June 29, 2014.

In the wake of this tragedy, the Lutzenkirchen family created the Lutzie 43 Foundation to honor Philip and to help end the distracted driving and impaired driving epidemic in America.

The foundation, which is based in Georgia, promotes several initiatives. It awards scholarships and offers a curriculum program that offers character-building lessons for drivers who want to help make roads safer for everyone.

Mike Lutzenkirchen, Philip’s father, also gives a “43 Key Seconds” talk in which he discusses his son’s life and death. He encourages people to pause for 43 seconds before turning on their engine. He wants drivers to make sure they have a clear head, clear hands, clear eyes, and that they are wearing a seatbelt.

Philip wore No. 43 at Auburn, where he helped the Tigers win a national championship in 2010.

“Philip had a platform, and he was known for giving to others off the field,” Mike Lutzenkirchen said. “He had a passion for helping young kids with cancer, younger kids who had spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism, down syndrome.”

Last year, the Lutzie 43 Foundation joined forces with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) to hold Safe Driving Summits across the state. Held at large venues, usually on a college campus, high school students attend these five-hour summits. There is a keynote address and four breakout sessions.

“We built this with the thought that we could go to Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee and ultimately grow this out from the southeast,” Mike Lutzenkirchen said. “And the early signs are very encouraging.”

GDOT shifted towards advocacy in 2015 with the launch of Drive Alert Arrive Alive (DAAA). The campaign focused on eliminating dangerous driver behaviors, like not wearing a seatbelt, using phones, speeding, and driving impaired. The foundation aligned with these goals, according to Andrew Heath, deputy chief engineer at GDOT.

“Like all states, Georgia has been experiencing a surge of serious injury and fatality crashes on our roadways since 2020,” Heath said. “This partnership furthers the reach of our existing safety campaigns and allows us to effectively reach younger audiences through the message of Philip Lutzenkirchen’s legacy and the efforts of all those partners who participate in the summits.”

Heath said that GDOT focuses on educating younger drivers “to instill lifelong safety habits as both a driver, a passenger or as pedestrian or cyclist.”

The Safe Driving Summits convey to teenage drivers the dangers associated with distracted and impaired driving. This school year, six summits were held across Georgia with more than 1,000 total student attendees.

“The summits are having a real impact on young people,” Heath said. “The intent of the summit is to focus on the dangers of distracted and impaired driving; but to do so in a ‘real-world’ experience with various breakout sessions covering many aspects associated with the responsibility of driving. During the summits, students hear firsthand from trauma doctors and nurses, first responders, members of law enforcement, rehabilitation and recovery professionals and members of the freight community to provide various viewpoints of the many people impacted by distracted and impaired drivers.”

The summits highlight what National Work Zone Awareness Week is all about. As Heath puts it, the summits teach young drivers the impact of a crash and how it can echo throughout a community.

“National Work Zone Awareness Week is a time to reflect on the devastating impacts work zone crashes and fatalities have on the community as a whole,” Heath said. “Everyone plays a role in the safety of those around them. Safety is a shared responsibility. This is the message of both GDOT and the Lutzie 43 Foundation and we are proud to partner on the Safe Driving Summit initiative.”

GDOT and the foundation will continue to hold summits during the 2023-24 school year. R&B

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