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In 2016, officials at the Cotton Bowl contacted me about helping them have a safer event. The first thing I did was look at the nature of incidents the organization had seen in the past and create a game plan with the Cotton Bowl staff and insurance company.
Before the Cotton Bowl game began, coaches, family members, players and others needed to attend countless events, meetings, luncheons and gatherings. Often, staffers drove them in unfamiliar cars to unknown destinations. Not only can this create a potentially confusing situation regarding insurance and liability for organizations, it brings an increased level of risk for drivers and passengers.
The plan we came up with included consistent, on-going education and communication with the drivers, as well as materials and flyers posted around offices where the drivers could see them. I developed a passenger bill of rights, making it clear that passengers should be encouraged to monitor and comment on drivers' performance.
I also did a 70-minute presentation for the group that included 10 specific safety tips, like taking extra time to learn how the car they'd be driving functions. (Many of the cars were loaners from Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz with unique safety and handling features.) Not only did the staffers attend the session, but supervisors and the Cotton Bowl CEO were there too. That's how invested they were in making the safety of their drivers and passengers a top priority.
The result? Where past Cotton Bowls usually saw between six and eight crashes, last year's bowl staff only recorded one minor incident, when a car scraped a parked vehicle in a parking garage. Seeing the improvement after a few recommendations and one presentation reminded me that the difference between a series of small crashes and a single scratched bumper can be as simple as awareness and prioritization.
The 2016 conversation also had a lasting impact. Last month, in advance of the 2017 Cotton Bowl, I returned to share a similar presentation. While there, I was able to survey 33 people who had been drivers in 2016. Among them, 97% said they paid more attention to driving safely during the Bowl as a result of the presentation, and 79% said they paid more attention to driving safety after their driving period was over. In other words, for four out of five participants, the benefits of the safety talk carried over into their personal driving habits.
So while the title game Jan. 8 between Alabama and Georgia decides the national champion, it's the decision to raise safety awareness that defines championship level leadership – just one of the ways we get to zero preventable deaths on our nation's roadways.