Fear is an expected part of life. It’s a key element of the human condition – fear of change, fear of the future and fear that others may discover our weaknesses. As transportation technology evolves at lightning pace, people, companies and the DOTs involved in the industry will experience fear as a result, often before considering the opportunity transformative technology brings.
Instead of living in fear, technology provides a chance for us all to make different decisions and create change rather than watching from the sidelines. For you and your business, there’s no longer an option to play it safe. You’re either in the game or you’re out.
In 2018, it’s time to ask yourself, how will you manage your fear?
At INTERSECT17 this past November, attendees heard from a father who not only lived through his greatest fear, but made a decision to turn tragedy into a force for good; a decision with the potential to save lives and forever change the world.
On Father’s Day weekend in 2016, Theodore “Teddy” Vagias, a successful businessman and CEO of the Mason Harriman Group, unintentionally became an advocate for autonomous and connected vehicles. That was when his 19-year old son Leo and Leo’s best friend, Sam, were killed in a car crash.
On Father’s Day both boys had worked all day at Leo’s grandparent’s diner. They used the proceeds from work to buy their fathers gifts. That night they went out to the basketball playoffs with college friends, but knew they had to be up early in the morning for their shift at the diner. Leo and Sam were planning to stay at Teddy’s house that evening and sometime after midnight the boys called and said they were only 15 minutes away. On that dark highway, they veered off the road into a wooded area and in the moment their lives ended, Teddy’s was changed forever.
Leo and Sam had been best friends since elementary school and were exceptional athletes. Leo was a freshman kicker on the University of Rhode Island’s football team and Sam was a wrestler at Rutgers, and they were training all summer for big seasons. Both boys were working together at the diner during the week and at Leo’s mom’s restaurant on the weekend. They were about to head back to school for their sophomore year when they died. No drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash. These were just good kids whose lives were lost in an instant.
On that day, Teddy’s worst fear became his new reality and in that reality, he made a choice. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and accepting what had happened, he decided to fight and influence governments, innovators and the entire intelligent transportation industry to move faster toward autonomous and connected vehicles, with a goal of zero fatalities on our nation’s roadways.
During his presentation at INTERSECT17 in Knoxville, he acknowledged that many industry people were already aligned with his mission. At the same time, he outed other groups invested in slowing the pace of innovation, either for the sake of old processes or their ongoing profit from the crash economy.
He asked the crowd to envision a clock much like the U.S. National Debt Clock, except this one counts the number of deaths on America’s roadways each year. As the clock ticks upward with the 100-people lost to crashes every single day, he suggested that audience members remember that each number has a face, is a mom or dad, a son or daughter and ultimately a heart that touches other hearts. He said, “Ask yourself a question. Who could you afford to lose?” letting the concept hang in the air and settle in to the minds of the attendees. “If you can’t, and you don’t want to, what would you do differently?” Vagias implored the group of transportation leaders to act saying, “In your mind, in your body, in your spirit, you have the innovation, the determination, the hard work, the free will, the love of man, to stop the clock and make the horrible dream go away.”
Too often, autonomous and connected vehicles are viewed from a business and process perspective without considering the true human cost of delaying these innovative technologies. Vagias asked the audience to lead in pushing a sense of urgency within the industry, because fear of the future cannot be the excuse that stands in the way of making sure everyone goes home at night.
“What I’m living through, I don’t ever want you to live through it,” he said. “But you have the power to make a difference, and I really hope you do.”
It’s time for us all to face our fears, whatever they may be, and make a difference for Teddy and every family that has lived through tragedy so that it never happens again. Autonomous vehicles are the end goal, but to get there we must each make steps toward a connected future and a vision of zero fatalities. Reach out to your congressman and demand improved infrastructure to implement vehicles of the future, or click here and go to the Federal Highway Administration’s page on Zero Deaths and pledge yourself or your company to one of these movements. Every second counts, and the clock’s still running.