An elite group of UPS employees is training youngsters how to make the kind of choices that could one day save their lives.
Tony Hussin is an accomplished UPS driver in New York City. As a member of the esteemed Circle of Honor, he wears patches sewn onto his uniform signifying that he has driven 25 years or more without an avoidable accident. And in a city where vehicle collisions are as frequent as celebrity sightings, that's a phenomenal feat.
"We stress the importance of doing the right thing, and making the right choice, even when no one is looking." – Tony Hussin
He's also a safety instructor for teenage boys and girls at the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx, where he and his supervisor, Don Bowers, facilitate and teach UPS Road Code®, a program to educate teens on safe driving techniques.
In a neighborhood where low-income housing is the norm and car-owning families are few and far between, the Bronx seems like an odd place to host a program about safe driving techniques. But according to Hussin and Bowers, this is exactly why the program is so critical there.
"Most of the kids we see come from broken homes with families that can't afford a car," Bowers says. "They're either riding in the backseat of their friend's car or taking a cab. Nobody is talking to these kids about wearing a seat belt or telling them how dangerous it is to distract their friend while he's driving."
Teaching teens about vehicle crashes
Facilitated by about 125 UPS employees who are trained as volunteer instructors, UPS Road Code – a partnership between The UPS Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America – is a free-to-attend program that educates teenagers in 44 cities nationwide. From high-tech driving simulators to seat belt demonstrations to learning techniques for staying alert, the students navigate activities to learn the fundamentals of what could possibly save their lives. Since launching in 2009, more than 25,000 young people have participated in UPS Road Code and it's available in 54 Boys & Girls Clubs, including Kips Bay.
According to Eugenia Gwynn with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. The CDC has worked closely with UPS and Boys & Girls Clubs to monitor, evaluate and improve the program.
"The leading causes of vehicle crashes among teens include driver inexperience and not using seat belts," Gwynn says. "Driving with teen passengers and nighttime driving also increase the risk of a fatal crash."
Knowing this statistic, Hussin likes to begin his classes in a sobering way.
"Right off the bat, I tell the kids to picture themselves sitting in a wheelchair," he says. "Can you imagine living the rest of your life that way?"
Hussin often uses his niece, who was ejected from a window when she wasn't wearing a seat belt, as an example to bring the situation to reality. "This makes them start asking a lot of questions," he says. "They're smart kids. But nobody is talking to them about the importance of wearing their seat belt."
Schooled by some of the safest drivers on the road
For Jerry Iacono, the decision to tap into the talents of some of the safest drivers on the road was a no-brainer.
"At UPS, we eat, sleep and drink safety," says Iacono, the global health and safety project manager for UPS Road Code. He works closely with Brian Hill of the Boys & Girls Club of America to train new facilitators and monitor the program. "Of our more than 100,000 drivers with 3 billion miles logged per year, we average a crash for every million miles traveled."
More than 8,700 of those drivers – members of the UPS Circle of Honor – have driven 25 years or more without an avoidable accident. And as Iacono says, it's not just UPS's commitment to safety that helps make the UPS Road Code program so impactful – it's the collective philanthropic spirit of its employees.
"Our people work exceptionally long hours," Iacono says. "With Road Code, they are giving a tremendous amount of their time for free."
Helping kids makes a difference
"As soon as we start speaking and showing videos, something amazing happens," says Bowers. "The kids really start paying attention and asking questions."
Hussin and Bowers both agree that sharing safe driving techniques with this group is only the beginning of much deeper learning.
"A lot of the questions the kids ask are about life, about right and wrong," Hussin says. "We don't want them to fall into the same traps as many of the people in the neighborhood. These kids aren't privileged at all. It's a tough life, and the cycle repeats itself. We stress the importance of doing the right thing, and making the right choice, even when no one is looking."
Teens, parents and others interested in learning more about safe driving techniques can visit bgca.org/roadcode.