CLEVELAND – Josh Weil and Alex Doody led lives full of purpose, and promise, and almost limitless potential.
That is, until the two Hawken School seniors died two years ago in a tragic car crash with a teenage friend behind the wheel.
“We never thought we were going to be the parents… of a child who dies,” said Michael Weil, Josh’s father. “But we all know there are parents whose children die.”
“The idea that this will never happen to you, I will tell you that I thought that,” said Rick Doody, Alex’s dad.
In the wake of their sons deaths, the two families established the Catch Meaning Foundation, which helps a number of organizations throughout Northeast Ohio.
They also have continued to speak out about the need to get teens to understand the potential devastation that can occur when they get behind the wheel of a car.
“The kids don’t think things through,” Doody said. “I didn’t at that age. I didn’t make the connection.”
After decades in decline, the number of teens killed on America’s roads has actually started to creep back up again.
“We have to figure out a way to minimize that,” Weil said. “We have to scale that back by way of using technology.”
That is exactly what Dr. Bill Yu does every day at Case Western Reserve University. Inside his 360-degree car simulator, Dr. Yu studies how distractions impact drivers and what can be done to minimize them.
One of his standard tests involves having his students drive in the simulator without distractions, then drive while texting. He said they are often surprised at the results.
“The fact is the are more likely to be involved in a traffic accident (while distracted),” Dr Yu said, “so they need to pay a little more attention.”
Dr. Yu said new ways are being developed to use technology to prevent accidents.
For example, he is working on a seat belt with a sensor in it to detect when a driver gets drowsy.
“Your heart rate, your breathing rate, they slow down when you get tired,” he said. But, if a sensor in your seat belt detects that, it could set of an alarm to alert you to the problem.
No question, Dr. Yu’s simulator is an eye-opening experience on the effects that distraction, or fatigue, can have while driving.
But very few people will experience the lessons it can teach. Getting through to drivers about those dangers remains the central challenge. That’s especially true of teenage drivers, where motor vehicle accidents remain the No. 1 killer of people in that age group.
“The truth of the matter is, you got to get through to the kids and that’s the hard part,” Doody said.
“This past six months, with all the accidents that have happened in Cleveland, parents across the city were aware of all the tragedy,” said Meredith Weil, Josh’s mom. “And how do you make that personal?”
Her husband, Michael, said parents have to stop and think about how they are dealing, on all levels, with just the concept of their teen driving a car.
“People don’t like to hear about teen deaths,” he said. “But they certainly don’t want to be the parents of someone who’s been a victim of this. It’s better for them to be inconvenienced by
information, then inconvenienced by funerals.”
An estimated 7,000 to 8,000 people attended Josh and Alex’s funerals. That is just one of many measures of the young men they were and the potential they held.