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M.V. Drive for Life program a lifesaver
Two and a half years ago, high school students David Furino and Kevin Johnson, best friends since childhood, died in a car crash on Atlantic Avenue near South Beach in Edgartown.
Tom and Barbara Furino at home in Edgartown. Photo by Janet Hefler
Offered by the National Safety Council's Central Massachusetts Chapter in West Boylston, the program teaches students five driving maneuvers that help them learn how to react under emergency conditions. "Kids are always going to be kids, but if they are taught these things, and there is some kind of emergency that comes up, and it may be in the future, then these lessons might come into use," Mr. Furino0 said.
A lecture by Skidz School instructor Gerry Bowman promises to jumpstart the evening. Known for his colorful speaking style, he peppers his speeches with attention-grabbing military analogies, such as, "Be prepared for battle, even if you are just driving down the street to buy bread."
An interactive discussion between parents, students, and police, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians will follow Mr. Bowman's remarks and a 15-minute movie. "We want the kids to get to know some of these first responders in a non-threatening setting so they won't be afraid to ask for help if they need it," said Mr. Furino.
"Students are invited to sit up front, so they don't have to sit with their parents," he added with a laugh.
Last year the Furinos and Kevin Johnson's parents, Anne and Kevin, arranged for and paid to bring Skidz School to the regional high school. However, setting up the driving obstacle course proved difficult in the confines of the high school's parking lots. Students who sign up next Monday to take the course will attend Skidz School in West Boylston where there is a specially designed 950-foot track available for maneuvers.
Skidz School is limited to 200 students. Through arrangements made by the Furinos, the daylong course and bus transportation to West Boylston will cost students only $50. The Furinos have offered to subsidize the cost of Skidz School for students who cannot afford it.
The M.V. Drive for Life program is an outgrowth of a campaign promoting the use of seat belts launched by the Furinos and Johnsons in 2005 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" continue to be displayed on cars all over the Island.
"David and Kevin, if they'd had their seat belts on, they would have made it, because they wouldn't have been ejected from the car," Ms. Furino said. "So many times people's lives can be saved with seat belts."
Her husband added, "Nobody knows when they're going to get in an accident. It could be tomorrow, it could be eight years and three days and four hours from now, and if at least you just put your seat belt on, when that time comes, you'll have a better chance of being OK."
While the bumper-sticker campaign remains ongoing, it represents just one facet of the Furinos' expanded efforts towards improved driver's education for Island teens through the creation of the M.V. Drive for Life - David Furino Foundation.
"We're not saying this is David's drive for life - this is for everybody," explained Ms. Furino. "This is definitely in memory of all of those who have died, and also the ones that have been in serious accidents, such as Samantha Church, whom we hope recovers soon." Ms. Furino said that the Johnsons chose to put some of the funds donated in memory of Kevin and David towards a cross-country scholarship. "We're not leaving Kevin out of it in any way, shape, or form, but that's why it's the David Furino Foundation, because we're doing the work on this project," she said.
To further the seat belt campaign, the Furinos, along with their friend Peter Rosbeck, are purchasing a "Seat Belt Convincer," a device that enables a passenger to experience the force generated during a 5-mph collision to demonstrate the importance of wearing a seat belt. When the device arrives next month, Mr. Furino said, "We want to make sure every single kid in that high school gets on it."
His Internet research on driver's education programs led him to driving simulators. "Driver's ed is just the beginning," said Mr. Furino. Simulators allow students to practice driving in adverse conditions, including fog, rain, ice, and night driving, along with emergency scenarios thrown in, he noted.
Realizing the potential uses for many in the Island community, he and his wife decided to buy one for the high school, at a cost of $8,000 to $10,000. "We want to purchase a simulator so the high school kids can use it during the day, and senior citizens can use it at night," Mr. Furino said. Island police officers also told him they would be interested in using a simulator for their training as well, he added.
The problem right now is finding a place for it. "We're worried about the high school not having a room to put the simulator in," Ms. Furino said. With its potential for use by so many age groups, she is hoping the new YMCA may be an option.
Mr. Furino, a stonemason, and his wife, who works as his bookkeeper, said public speaking does not come easily for them. However, both said they find the courage to speak up when it comes to talking about their goal to enhance driver's education on Martha's Vineyard and make it the best possible.
"There's just so much to learn - it can't be done in just a few hours at night," Mr. Furino said. Students need to practice before they go off to college and to gain experience, perhaps on a simulator, for situations they will face when driving on highways off Island.
In addition to their goal of improved driver's education, the Furinos are working with Senator Robert O'Leary and the Massachusetts Highway Safety Council to create "David's Law," patterned after "Joshua's Law" in Georgia. After Joshua Brown died in a car accident three years ago, his father Alan authored a law, which makes driver's education available to every teen through a 5 percent fee attached to all traffic violations in Georgia.
"If we do somehow get this law passed in Massachusetts, parents won't have to worry about paying for driver's education," Mr. Furino pointed out. "We have relatives with kids in Massachusetts, and we said, you know what? We're not going to stop here," Mr. Furino said.
Thinking of her brother's children who are ages 8 and 12, Ms. Furino said, "By the time we get this done, it might be just in time for them."
In the meantime, the couple and their 22-year-old son Michael face another holiday without David. "You don't get over your grief - you just get used to living with it," Ms. Furino said. "It's hard, especially this time of year, because it's Christmas, and we're grieving, but yet at the same time, if you don't try to save somebody else from a bad crash or death, what are we here for? You have to do something to make it better."