Safety Council honors Drive for Life founders
Barbara and Tom Furino of Edgartown received the Central Massachusetts Safety Council (CMSC) 2008 President's Award at a banquet last Thursday night in recognition for their efforts to promote improved driver's education and safe driving.
The Furinos founded the non-profit organization Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life after their 17-year-old son David and his best friend Kevin Johnson died in a car crash in 2004. The organization's mission is to develop partnerships between public, private, and government sectors to make technologically advanced driver's education available to all teens, and to put it back into the curriculum in all Massachusetts high schools.
"I'm sure the Furinos are going to prevent a lot of tragedies on the Island and beyond," said CMSC executive director Tim Cooney in a phone call last week. "Instead of internalizing their grief, they have channeled it into tremendous action. They turned a real negative into a positive. They may never know how many lives they've saved by what they're doing."
CMSC, incorporated in 1917 as the first New England chapter of the National Safety Council, celebrated its eighty-ninth awards banquet on June 19 at the Wachusett Country Club in West Boylston. Mr. Cooney said the annual event honors people who have made outstanding contributions to their community in occupational, educational, traffic, and community safety.
The Furinos were awarded a beautiful wall clock with a plaque that reads, "In recognition for your outstanding involvement in the statewide effort to reduce and hopefully eliminate teenage driving tragedies."
Reflecting on what the award meant to him, Mr. Furino said in a phone call on Monday, "I was thinking that David and Kevin and all the other kids deserve this award, not me and Barb, because they paid the ultimate price. We have to learn from what happened to them and go on. We're just the messengers - none of those kids died in vain."
In keeping with Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life's mission, board members worked with Martha's Vineyard Regional High School Principal Margaret "Peg" Regan on a proposal for making the classroom component of driver's education an elective course in the high school's curriculum. In June 2007, the high school committee agreed to add the course, starting that September.
Photo courtesy of Barbara Furino
Instructor John Stabile's salary was covered by an unfilled full-time teaching position already funded in the fiscal year 2008 budget. Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life raised money to purchase simulators and computer-based training for the program.
Mr. Cooney proved a valuable resource in setting up the program. Mr. Stabile received training from CMSC and continues to work in affiliation with the organization, which provides a car for driving instruction on the Island.
"We are so grateful to Tim Cooney - none of this would have been possible without him - and to Peg Regan," said Mr. Furino.
Ms. Regan managed to find space for the driver's education class in a room off the cafeteria, just big enough for two of the four simulators purchased by Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life. At a school committee meeting a few weeks ago, she reported a successful first year for the driver's education course. The school committee voted unanimously to continue the program next year.
"So we're thrilled, and we definitely have it budgeted for next year," Ms. Regan said in a phone call last week. "We're hoping to have it go as long as we can do it. We have to look at shrinking enrollment and other kinds of factors as well at this point, and whether we are going to continue to budget the program through the operating budget."
She said she does not think there will be additional classroom space available next year for expansion. About 200 students took the course over the past school year, including all of the sophomores and many juniors. "I think the biggest bonus for the kids has been the additional amount of time and focus on driver safety," Ms. Regan said.
For about 12 years, Joe and Natalie Thibodeau owned and operated the only driver education program on the Island, Vineyard Auto School, after school hours.
"I think that the Thibodeaus did a great job with their program, but having driver's education as a classroom course in the high school allows extra time and technology for the students to get a deeper understanding of what it means to be a safe driver," Ms. Regan said. "Also, the accessibility has been wonderful. Just having those extra hours during the school day that they don't have to carve out of their athletics, jobs, extracurricular activities, home life and homework is a huge timesaver for students."
Parents still paid for behind-the-wheel driving instruction, which was provided by Mr. Thibodeau and Mr. Stabile outside of school hours. Unfortunately, because of recent changes in state law, the cost savings for the classroom component of driver's education now provided free at the high school has been offset by fees for additional driving instruction hours required, Ms. Regan said.
Mr. Stabile applied and has been accepted again for the instructor position, which is a one-year, year-to-year position, Ms. Regan said.
The Furinos began promoting teen driver safety in the spring of 2005, joining Kevin Johnson's parents, Anne and Kevin, in launching a campaign promoting the use of seat belts in memory of their sons. The free bumper stickers they gave away before prom and graduation that read "Buckle up for A.J. and Deebo" are still displayed on cars all over the Island.
Working with Mr. Cooney, the Furinos and Johnsons arranged for and paid to bring "Skidz School" to the regional high school in May 2005. The daylong advanced driver's course offered by CMSC teaches accident avoidance maneuvers.
The Furinos formally began Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life in 2006 and joined board member Peter Rosbeck in donating the funds to purchase a "Seat Belt Convincer." The device enables a passenger to experience the force generated during a 5-mph collision to demonstrate the importance of wearing a seat belt.
In June 2007 Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life sponsored a field trip for 17 Martha's Vineyard Regional High School students to attend "Skidz School" in West Boylston, where CMSC offers training on a special 950-foot track.
Through arrangements made by the Furinos, the course and bus transportation to West Boylston cost students only $50. They also offered to subsidize the cost for students who could not afford it.
Over the last year, the Furinos and the Martha's Vineyard Drive for Life board have been working with Senator Robert O'Leary on "David's Law," legislation that would impose a five percent surcharge on every traffic fine to fund driver's education in Massachusetts High Schools. "Barb and our son Michael and I don't want anybody to go through what we're going through," Mr. Furino said.