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Drive Smart Virginia educates drivers on traffic safety
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Drive Smart Virginia educates drivers on traffic safety

“Hi, I was expecting your call. Let me take you off speakerphone, so people don’t think I’m sitting here talking to myself.”

That’s how Drive Smart Virginia Executive Director Janet Brooking answered the phone from her parked car. As leader of an organization whose main message is “Buckle Up. Phone Down.”, Brooking not only talks the talk, but diligently walks the walk.

Drive Smart Virginia is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 by six of Virginia’s insurance companies—Allstate, GEICO, Nationwide, State Farm, USAA and Virginia Farm Bureau—to educate drivers about traffic safety.

“We exist solely to save lives on the roadways of Virginia,” Brooking said. “We look at the ways to reach people, educate them and help change their behavior.”

The organization has five employees and is led by a diverse board of directors that includes safety advocates, association and corporate representatives and law enforcement.

“We have a very high-functioning team, and we rely heavily on our board and partners,” Brooking added.

Drive Smart Virginia also has a Safe Driving Coalition of about 100 companies and organizations in Virginia. Member groups receive monthly newsletters, newspaper clippings and safety-related promotional materials.

Brooking said the organization spent its first 10 years focusing on seat belt use and its benefits. “There’s a good number of people buckling up now,” she added.

Drive Smart Virginia takes on any issue that can raise traffic safety awareness among all road users to save lives and reduce injuries. Areas of particular interest have included speed, pedestrian fatalities and drinking and driving.

Distracted driving

Preventing distracted driving has become a major focus for Drive Smart Virginia, and Brooking said the organization was one of the first in the nation to highlight its importance.

In the early 2000s a board member shared information about a distracted driving awareness day held at their workplace in hopes that Drive Smart Virginia would take the message statewide—and they did.

“That’s how we came up with a Distracted Driving Awareness Day, which led to a week and now a whole month, which is April and is recognized nationally,” Brooking explained.

It’s also how the Distracted Driving Summit got its start. Now in its seventh year, it is a highly-recognized event that is one of a kind nationwide. It brings together insurance professionals, law enforcement, automotive groups, safety professionals and others to share news and research findings.

“We try hard to bring in a variety of top-notch speakers and provide many productive learning opportunities,” Brooking added.

The 2019 summit will take place Sept. 25-26 in Roanoke.

Partnerships are key

Drive Smart Virginia receives support from corporate partners and insurance companies, along with state agencies, including the Virginia State Police and the state Department of Transportation, Department of Education and Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Our partnership with DMV, for example, allows us to reach some of our largest audiences,” including spectators at NASCAR events and Virginia Tech football games, Brooking noted.

Brooking said Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. has been a significant partner. Darlene Wells, VFBMIC executive vice president and general manager, serves on the Drive Smart Virginia board of directors, and David Tenembaum, VFBMIC’s actuarial manager, serves as the nonprofit’s treasurer.

“Virginia Farm Bureau has helped us reach a lot of people.”

Farm Bureau provided file footage for a new video produced by Drive Smart Virginia to help reduce traffic deaths involving farm equipment and other slow-moving vehicles. The video was released in February and can be viewed online at bit.ly/dsv_smv.

For more information, visit drivesmartva.org.

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