Introduce yourself. Tell our readers a little bit about who you are.
That they died at 17 and 19 years old is a tragedy beyond words. That their passion, promise and strength, so filled with their high spirits, courage and humor lives on to save and inspire lives is nothing short of a miracle. It is difficult to remember all the statistics. It is easy to remember Laura Grant and Eddie Culberhouse. Statistics at the time of the accident reflected that 5,000 teens die annually in automobile related accidents. It is the number one cause of death amongst this age group. A major factor in this statistic is that as few as 38% of teens wear their seat belts. Not wearing a seatbelt during an accident makes you 30 times more likely to be ejected from the vehicle.
These statistics became our reality on Sunday, February 6, 2011 when six of our beloved Orlando, FL teenagers were on their way to New Smyrna Beach in Central Florida. A tragic automobile accident took the lives of 17-year old Laura Grant and her 19-year old boyfriend, Eddie Culberhouse. The accident severely injured two of the other teens and left two more suffering with minor injuries. We believe that if every teen had been wearing their seatbelt during the accident it would have saved lives and prevented injuries. Immediately following the accident it was assumed that Laura had not been wearing her seatbelt, however subsequent investigation has revealed that Laura was in fact belted at the onset of the accident. We believe that had Laura’s seatbelt remained in place it would have saved her life and that in most instances seat belts do save lives.
A passionate message has been born out of Laura and Eddie’s story, two amazing young people who’s lives and love have touched so many. The Always Wear Your Seatbelt (AWYS) Foundation was founded on September 21st 2012 by their mothers in loving memory of the two incredible teens who seemed to know that they would be together forever.
What does your foundation do?
The mission of the Foundation is to save lives through raising awareness and educating teens to ALWAYS WEAR YOUR SEATBELT if not for yourself, for Laura and Eddie.
What have you learned since starting your foundation?
A tragedy like this teaches you so much about the kindness of people and the generosity of a community that has rallied around our families, friends and loved ones and now seatbelt cause related to this tragedy. The outpouring of love & support over the course of the past 4 years is an incredible testament to the affirming faith of the human spirit. Through unimaginable tragedy, we feel honored to do what we believe today is some of our life’s greatest work.
As we worked to make sense of this tragedy, we have also learned some startling facts about seatbelt use amongst teens. We learned that 1 in every 3 persons will be involved in a traffic collision at some point in their lives; We learned that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death amongst teens and that more than 12 young people lose their lives in car crashes each day. We also learned that teens are involved in 4x more fatal accidents than drivers 25 years or older and most of the teens killed in car crashes were not wearing seat belts;
What about your foundation are you most proud of?
After the creation of our foundation, teens close to Laura & Eddie created a High School Always Wear Your Seatbelt Club. The 1st AWYS Club at Boone High School in Orlando Florida, the school where Laura & Eddie attended, recruited 300+ members year one and has since remained one of the largest service clubs on school campus; The Always Wear Your Seatbelt Club has since grown to two other local schools with over 1000 participants reaching close to 10,000 students; The clubs have developed an engaging year-round campaign and provide active mentorship to underclassman and encouraging one another to always buckle up.
We have awarded numerous $1000.00 scholarships to teens participating in the AWYS club whom have worked to significantly raise seatbelt safety awareness;
With a goal of 1 million pledges, we have engaged thousands of members of the community including elementary grade students, teens and adults to “cross their heart” and pledge to always wear their seatbelt;
We have held numerous awareness & fundraising efforts throughout the years enabling us to raise seatbelt safety awareness through targeted significant communication and marketing efforts.
There are a few specific examples of local teens whom since our tragedy have been involved in some pretty serious accidents and lived to comment that they were wearing their seatbelts because of Laura & Eddie.
What are some of the greatest challenges you face with your foundation?
Reaching as many teens as possible and raising awareness of the public. Some statistics reflect that only 38% of teens wear their seat belts today. We have been honored to work in partnership with prevention organizations like The National Safety Counsel, The Florida Teen Safe Driving Coalition, The Fire Department, Police Department & Orlando Health to name a few. We will continue to try to reach as many teens as we can working in partnership to enhance the efforts of these amazing organizations.
Where do you see your foundation in 10 years?
Where and how we have grown in the past 48 months has far exceeded our expectations and any short-term goals we may have had. In 10 years, we hope to have impacted our community, state and ultimately nation in a way that both educates individuals on seatbelt safety while also removing the option to buckle up for anyone driving a car.
Today, Florida’s law states that the front seat passengers must wear seat belts. This law applies to any car manufactured since 1968. In addition, all passengers under 18 years old must wear a seat belt or be otherwise restrained by a child car seat. It is against the law to operate a vehicle if all the passengers do not meet these standards.
Our short-term efforts include working to change legislation to include backseat passengers, as Eddie was seated in backseat.
What type of legacy do you want your foundation to leave?
Our goal today is to carry on Laura & Eddie’s legacy of love and save lives through seatbelt use. We hope our children, teens, adults and collective community will be inspired through this loss to make a difference.
What is the story behind the custom patches that you produced with The/Studio?
Some local firefighters whom participated in our 1st 5k in November 2014 requested a patch with our logo to wear on their gear to raise awareness when they participate in charitable activities.
How are you going to use these custom patches?
Once we received them, I posted pictures to our FB page and within minutes had a local Boy Scout Chapter and others requesting the same patch. We have a feeling this will be another great awareness product item for us!
Is there anything our community members can do to help your Foundation?
First and foremost, ALWAYS wear your seatbelt. Your community can also please like us on FB and follow our page with important safety reminders. Please also share our story as well as the many other tragic stories that have possibly personally affected each of you in order to save the lives of our teens and community. We have learned that 9 out of 10 times, when asked, someone will buckle their seatbelt. Lastly, in our goal of 1 million pledges, please download from our FB page the pledge and commit to always wear your seatbelt.