It has been five years since the accident. On Friday, May 8, 2004, Tom and Barbara Furino’s son David and his friend Kevin Johnson were killed in a late-night automobile accident at Katama. David was 17; Kevin was 16.
The Furinos said this week they are still grieving. But their work to bring back, strengthen and upgrade the regional high school driver’s education program has been a positive outlet for them.
Indeed, it has been a mission driven by a furious passion to safeguard student drivers, now and well into the future.
The Furinos are the founders of Martha’s Vineyard Drive for Life, a four-year-old nonprofit organization committed to backing the driver’s education program at the regional high school, including providing state of the art technology and instruction.
To date the foundation has raised $40,000; the money has been used for a variety of things, from providing equipment to bringing instructors to the Vineyard.
And the Furinos have not stopped there. They have taken their cause to Beacon Hill, where they have lobbied for changes in state law to better protect student drivers by making driver’s education mandatory in schools. As a result of their efforts, Cape and Islands Sen. Robert O’Leary filed a bill to provide funding for driver’s education in schools. Called David’s Law, the bill would raise money to pay for the education through a small surcharge on traffic violations. The money would be placed in a trust account and dispersed to public schools for driver’s education programs. The bill is modeled after similar legislation in the state of Georgia.
The Furinos are well versed in the statistics. “Eighty-five per cent of teen driver deaths are due to driver error. The driver didn’t merge properly, they didn’t change lanes properly,” Mr. Furino said.
But sensible as it all may seem, the Furinos’ mission has been something of an uphill battle.
Faced with shrinking budgets, most public schools have decided to leave driver’s education in the hands of private contractors. And the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School has now rejoined those ranks.
Thanks to the incessant work of the Furinos, for the past two years, the high school has provided funding for a driver education program in the school. Last year, the school dedicated a room to driver’s education. The room has 12 computer-driven stations that give students a simulated driving experience. A calm coaching voice sounds off after every error in these driving lessons. Two of the stations, costing $8,000 apiece, offer three flat-screen views of the road. Students use a drivable steering wheel, an accelerator pedal, brake pedal and stick shift. Every cost associated with the room, right down to carpet and paint, came from the Drive for Life foundation.
But it has not been enough. In the year ahead, the high school plans to end driver’s education as part of the school curriculum. Though the school has promised the Furinos the room, it can no longer pay for the teacher. The program will end at the close of the school year this June.
Unless there is a change between now and then, next fall parents will need to make their own arrangements for their driving-age children to receive driver’s education from a private contractor, at an estimated cost of more than $900.
Undaunted by the setbacks, the Furinos are still working to find a way to pay for the teacher and keep the program in the high school. They are adamant that this is the best option. “I think it is important to put driver’s education into the school day. Many schools will put driver’s education at the end of the day. But many students can’t do it after school, they’ve got jobs. They don’t have the money to pay for the class. We’d like it so kids rich or poor can take it,” said Mrs. Furino.
They are working with Mike Delis, a retired Edgartown police officer, who just completed state training in driver’s education. They hope he will step in next fall to run the driver’s education program. They also hope that Joe Thibodeau, a retired physical education teacher who is running the driver’s education program on an interim basis, will continue.
Mr. Thibodeau said he would be available to help if asked.
Lisa Lucier, a charter member of the board of directors for Drive for Life, made it clear that it all comes down to money.
“People need to be aware that right now we don’t have the funding for the teacher next fall. We hope to see it happen. You can’t possibly think of the alternative, not having driver’s education.”
But the Furinos, whose son would have turned 22 on Sunday, are ever optimistic.
Which is what keeps them going, even against long odds.
“We are trying to put driver’s education into every high school in the state, like it used to be,” Mr. Furino said.
“The frustrating part has been that it takes longer than you wish,” Mrs. Furino added.