In an awful instant almost 15 years ago, Vijay Dixit says his life stopped.
Dixit’s 19-year-old daughter, Shreya, was killed in a Nov. 1, 2007 crash caused by the momentary distraction of the driver of the car in which she was riding with three other friends. She was on her way home from the University of Wisconsin to visit her family.
While his life stopped in that moment, it didn’t take long for Dixit to channel his grief into something positive.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted driving is responsible for: 9 highway deaths every day in the U.S.; 8% of all fatal crashes, 15% of injury crashes, and 14% of all police-reported motor vehicle crashes.
A car traveling at 55 mph while the driver sends or reads a text is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field with your eyes closed, according to the NHTSA.
Estimates are that 10% of all drivers are doing so while distracted.
Dixit’s new direction, joined by his wife, Rekha, and daughter, Nayha, turned into the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation.
The Foundation’s mission is to raise awareness of distracted driving, educate the community about safe and distraction-free driving, and encourage others to be mindful of the safety of others on the road.
The Foundation works closely with schools to educate teens about the dangers of distracted driving. Dixit has helped create online courses, written a book, and initiated Distraction-Free Life Clubs at schools, including Eden Prairie High School.
Club leaders received the 2020 Emerging Leaders Award at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Toward Zero Deaths Conference.
Most recently, the Foundation has started a six-week summer internship program for high school and college students. Dixit said the interns will showcase their work and answer questions during one of the Foundation’s ongoing efforts next month.
That effort, the 15th Annual Raksha Run/Walk and Vigil to End Distracted Driving, is Saturday, Aug. 6, at Purgatory Creek Park in Eden Prairie.
The vigil will include a display of photos of distracted driving victims and their stories.
Dixit also learned recently that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has declared Aug. 6 “Distraction-Free Driving Day” in Minnesota.
The Foundation picked the first Saturday in August for the run/walk because it aligns closely with Raksha Bandhan, the Indian festival that celebrates the love between brothers and sisters.
Raksha Bandhan is an Indian festival commemorating a centuries-old tradition in which a sister ties a ceremonial band called a rakhi on her brother’s wrist and prays for his protection and safety.
Raksha is a Sanskrit root word that means “protection.” Bandhan means “to tie.”
Tying a rakhi around a loved one’s wrist — or a stranger’s — is believed to remind us of the moral duty to protect those around us. Rakhis are typically made of multi-colored cotton strands and decorated with beads or stones.
Participants at the Aug. 6 event will have the opportunity to join others at the event’s ceremony by taking the pledge to eliminate their own distracted driving and tying a rakhi around the wrist of a family member, friend or stranger to offer them protection.
“After reciting the pledge, we will ask people to turn to the person standing next to them, tie the rakhi on his or her wrist and ask them to tie one on your wrist,” Dixit said. “And then you promise each other ‘I’ll protect you on the road. You protect me on the road.’ And that’s how the tradition started.”
Participants have enjoyed the ceremony so much that they ask for additional rakhis to share with a family member or friend, Dixit said.
“What we ask them to do, because it is a very small string, is to tie it on (their) rearview mirror,” he said. “It is too small to be a distraction, but when you see that rakhi, it becomes a reminder that you took a pledge.”
The 15th Annual Raksha Run/Walk and Vigil to End Distracted Driving begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, at Purgatory Creek Park, 13001 Technology Drive. You can register on the Foundation’s website.
Participants can participate in the event in person or virtually.
Editor’s note: Vijay Dixit is a contributor to EPLN and is a member of its Board of Directors.
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