One mother takes on a traffic safety epidemic

“People need to start admitting that they make the mistake of distracted driving.”

A traffic safety advocate sits beside a roadside memorial to her son.

Michael was Barbara’s son. In 2004, he was crossing this intersection on a scooter when he was killed by a driver running a red light. Michael was only 14 years old.

“They came over and they said, ‘we couldn’t save him’. Those words didn’t register,” Barbara recalls. “The sudden loss is just so… you don’t have a chance to say goodbye.”

After losing her son, Barbara’s shock turned to despair and disbelief. How could a single careless mistake cost a life? She wanted to honor her son and keep his memory alive. She also needed to do something.

Then she found Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance.

On an average day, more than 100 people are killed in car crashes.

At the Arizona Distracted Driving Summit for traffic safety.

Barbara at the third annual Arizona Distracted Driving Summit.

Red Means Stop

Red Means Stop is a traffic safety education and advocacy organization specifically devoted to raising awareness about the dangers of running red lights.

“I think that was probably a lifesaver for me because I needed a place to vent my anger and a place to spread the word about the dangers of running red lights,” she recalls.

Barbara took a role on Red Means Stop’s Board of Directors and eventually became the Executive Director. She also went back to graduate school and used her platform as a student to research road safety. She earned a Master’s in Communication Studies, which helps her run the non-profit.

Barbara now devotes her life and work as Executive Director of Red Means Stop to keeping people safe on the road, educating young people on distracted driving, and impacting Arizona laws and policy.

“We want to save lives, and that’s our main goal,” Barbara emphasizes.

Graphic stories can help educate the public on traffic safety.

Barbara looks through graphic stories which Red Means Stop uses to educate people on the dangers of red-light running.

Getting human error out of the equation

Barbara urges people to look both ways at intersections – even if they have a green light – to make sure no one is running a red light.

Barbara also acknowledges we live in a world where human drivers are increasingly distracted and insist on driving even long after they probably shouldn’t. Despite new laws, crashes keep happening.

She believes technology could offer a solution. “If people refuse to try to stop driving or having all these bad driving behaviors, then we should take into consideration what technology can offer today,” she says.

“I believe that my son would be alive today if human error wasn’t a big part of his death.”

A photo of a child killed by a red-light runner.

A photo of Barbara’s son Michael in Barbara’s home. Michael was killed by a red-light runner in 2004.

Technology as a possible solution for road safety

Barbara says fully self-driving cars like Waymo could enhance road safety by eliminating human error. Fully self-driving technology performs all the tasks of driving, but without being distracted. Waymo’s self-driving technology “sees” and stops for stoplights and stop signs and is constantly aware of road users and what they might do next.

Barbara remembers the first two times she rode in a Waymo.

“I was really excited because I was like, ‘this is it. This is something that I’ve looked forward to all this time,’” Barbara recalls. “If the man who killed my son happened to be in a self-driving car, Michael would still be here today because the car would have stopped at that red light and it would see the humans at the intersection.”

Barbara believes that once people start seeing road fatalities go down with the introduction of self-driving cars, they’ll be convinced.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally am very much for this new self-driving technology,” Barbara says. She adds with a smile, “I always tease people that when it happens, then I can retire….”

A memorial shelf helps a mother commemorate her son.

Barbara keeps things that remind her of her son Michael, such as his trophies and a small rock collection, on a special shelf in her home.

“If this epidemic of road fatalities does not begin to subside, the best solution will be to place self-driving cars on our roadways and take driver error out of the equation.”

Barbara rides in a Waymo fully self-driving vehicle.

Barbara in one of Waymo’s fully self-driving vehicles. She believes self-driving technology can save lives and enhance road safety.

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