Three Washington Women Wish They Hadn’t Won Traffic Safety Awards

OLYMPIA – They had suffered the ultimate loss. Three women lost loved ones in preventable car crashes and wanted to do anything they could to keep other families from experiencing the same pain. They came to Olympia determined to help lawmakers understand the need for a tougher distracted driving law. And they succeeded.

Gina Bagnariol-Benavides of Auburn, Lavera Wade of Spokane, and Tina Meyer of Arlington each received the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Public Service Award for high standards of achievements in the field of highway safety and contributions to the quality of life in the country. On Monday, April 23, 2018, NHTSA honored the three Washington State citizen advocates with its Public Service Award at the 2018 Lifesavers Conference in San Antonio, Texas. The women were recognized for their leadership in efforts to upgrade Washington’s distracted driving law during the 2017 legislative session, each traveling to Olympia to talk to legislators and testify on behalf of their grieving families.

Bagnariol-Benavides’ sister was killed in a crash involving a distracted driver. On July 17, 2016, Jody Bagnariol and her friend Elisabeth Rudolph were stopped in traffic on southbound I-5 when they were rear-ended by a driver travelling at 76 MPH. The woman who struck them admitted that her husband had been taking selfies with her from the passenger seat prior to the crash.

Tina Meyer’s son Cody was struck by a driver who was looking at his cell phone. Cody, a certified flagger, was directing traffic in a construction zone in December 2015 when the crash occurred. Cody died six months later from his injuries.

Lavera Wade’s grandson, Sam Thompson, died in September 2014 when he crossed the center line and hit a semi-truck head on. Sam had been texting at the time of the crash. He died just days before his 21st birthday.

“These women and their families experienced heart-wrenching loss, yet summoned the courage to lead the way on this legislative charge,” said Washington Traffic Safety Commission Director, Darrin Grondel. “Our hope is that the law will prevent more tragedies like theirs due to distracted driving.”

The new law went into effect July 23, 2017 and prohibits any hand-held use of cell phones and other electronic devices while driving, stopped in traffic, or at a stop light. It restricts hands-free use to a single touch.

Bagnariol-Benavides, Wade, and Meyer were able to travel to receive their awards in person, thanks to a generous gift from Target Zero partner, The Driver Training Group, franchising entity for 911 and Swerve Driving Schools.

The NHTSA Public Service Awards recognize and honor individuals or organizations, who exemplify high standards of achievement in the field of traffic safety; and through his/her or the group’s accomplishments, have contributed to the quality of life in the community, state or nation. Nominations were limited to individuals and organizations who conduct these activities as volunteers or in a civic capacity. Award winners were nominated by NHTSA staff members and selected by senior NHTSA leadership.

The Lifesavers Conference is the nation’s largest assembly of highway safety professionals. The conference highlights and shares emerging traffic safety data, and issues, and exposes participants to proven life-saving programs and best practices that they can use in their individual jurisdictions. This year’s conference is being held April 22-24 in San Antonio, Texas and has drawn over 2,000 participants and 90 exhibitors.