Turning tragedy into action: working to keep teens safe

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Grieving Unionville couple committed to saving lives with better driving training

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Special to UnionvilleTimes.com

A Unionville High student demonstrates one of the driving simulators.

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, a statistic so dire that the Centers for Disease Control added this explanation to its most recent data: Eight teens ages 16 to 19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries in 2009. Per mile driven, drivers ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely than older drivers to crash, the agency said.

One local couple has been working tirelessly to reverse those numbers. Brian and Cheri Miller committed themselves to using the pain of their daughter’s death to pay tribute to her memory and to try and prevent similar tragedies.

On June 13, 2008, Abby Miller, a 17-year-old, volunteer softball coach with an infectious smile, died after swerving to avoid a deer on U.S. 1. The Unionville High junior had been licensed less than nine months, and police attributed the fatal crash to inexperienced driving. After nearly 1,500 people showed up for their daughter’s memorial service, her parents said they realized they could best honor her legacy of outreach by continuing it.

Since then, Brian and Cheri Miller, who founded Safe at Home, the Abby Miller Foundation, have been working to promote the importance of driver’s education – a casualty of budget cuts in many school districts.

On the anniversary of his daughter’s death this past summer, Brian Miller delivered an impassioned plea to the Unionville school board to fund a driver’s education course. A week later, the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education voted to offer free drivers’ education to students for the first time since the early 1990s. Previously, the class had been run by the Chester County Intermediate Unit and cost parents $300.

“We were very pleased,” Miller said in a recent interview. “Learning to drive is one of the most important skills kids learn, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Having safer drivers benefits everyone on the highway.

Through the foundation, the Millers have also donated three high-tech driving simulators to both Unionville and Garnet Valley High. Experts say the simulators give teens a safe environment in which to gain valuable practice at maneuvers such as avoiding a hazard or navigating a slick road.

Miller said he just ordered six more of the $15,000 machines for Unionville. He said the school wanted eight so that students in the drivers’ education program would not have long waits to use them. He said he hopes the foundation’s upcoming fund-raisers might enable him to order two more before school starts next year, creating a program that could become a model for other districts..

Those events include a beef and beer dinner with dancing and a silent and live auction on June 1, a softball tournament with both competitive and recreational categories on June 2, and a golf tournament June 4; sponsors and auction donations are being sought. On July 4, the foundation will be the beneficiary of the Brandywine Valley Summer Series AA Horse Show for the first time. For more information, or to register for the events, visit http://abbymillerfoundation.org. To donate an item for the silent auction, contact
Brian Miller at brian@abbymillerfoundation.org or Megan Basilio at Meganbasilio@gmail.com.

“We have information on how to help prevent” teen-driving fatalities, Miller said. “So we want to do whatever we can to spare others from what we went through.”

 

Police attributed Abby Miller's fatal car accident to inexperienced driving.

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