Promising to Make a Difference
On a mission to spread awareness about driving and safety, Karen Benway—teacher, coach and mother, carries a grand vision for the future. Her influential I Promise Teardrop Program is a safety campaign that has already begun to create a promising impact upon the lives of many teens, parents and adults.
The inspiration for I Promise came to Benway during a sleepless night when she thought about her own life experiences with decision-making and safety and the well being of her daughter.
“I got up in the middle of the night and wrote down everything I envisioned in my mind. I thought about stories of students throughout the community and in my own life and I got to thinking of all the tears shed. I wanted my daughter to think twice about the simple issues—about putting her seat belt on and being a cautious driver,” she explained.
The teardrop, inscribed with the words, “I Promise,” is designed to hang from the car’s rearview mirror, symbolizing the promise to not drink and drive, to avoid reckless driving and always wear a seatbelt.
“It’s a real promise that’s hanging in front of them,” said Benway. A pledge card accompanies the teardrop and a contact card allows drivers to list the names and numbers of individuals to call in case of emergencies.
With celebrity DUIs on the rise, alcohol use among teenagers has also increased, raising the risk for drunk-driving related incidents and sparking the need for positive role models to promote healthy decision-making.
“The reason for the program is that we are losing way too many people in this world,” said Benway. “The teardrop represents reality. When you’ve sat through funerals where lives and situations could have been prevented, you begin to see where the passion behind it is coming from.”
Benway hopes for the message to reach not only teens, but also adults. According to the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration, someone is killed every 31 minutes and injured every two minutes as a result of an alcohol-related crash. High-risk groups include people of all ages who are guilty of driving while intoxicated, using a cell phone or text messaging.
“I’m making the promise to my own kids and the connection should be made both ways. I have a teardrop for myself and my daughter and she sees that I’m going to keep my promise too. The teardrop is a constant reminder of the lives lost. It’s not just about drinking, it’s also about wearing seatbelts and not using cell phones while driving,” expressed Benway.
Parent, Brenda Smith of Edmond also carries the best interest of her family at heart when it comes to safety. “Years ago I gave my children visor clips as a “drive safely” reminder, but now I’m giving them, and my teenage granddaughter, a teardrop promise because it’s much more visible and [makes it] impossible to get behind the wheel without noticing it. The teardrop promise says ‘I love you.’ The more impressions it makes in their minds, the more safety awareness it creates.”
With growing support from school districts, teachers, parents and the Edmond Police Department, Benway wishes to convey the positive message to communities nationwide and contribute to organizations such as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and V.I.P. (Victims Impact Panel).
Benway’s friend, Pat Dunlap, has been a driving force in the success of I Promise. Dunlap’s media expertise has opened the gateway to reaching individuals everywhere through the program’s website, ipromise.tv. The site contains video documentaries of teens and adults involved with the campaign, in addition to testimonials, statistics and a place to order the I Promise teardrop for a friend or loved one.
Benway and Dunlap encourage parents to watch the videos with their children to open a bridge of conversation to discuss important and valuable life changing lessons. “Our target is young drivers to old [drivers] and everything in between,” said Dunlap. “We can’t let a minute go by without helping people make good decisions.”
While the program is still in its early stages, Benway and Dunlap have been transformed by the experience thus far. Dunlap, the father of two young drivers, recently had the opportunity to talk with his son who has agreed to make the promise. “It’s meant the world to me and it really helps kids handle the peer pressure,” he said. “To me the teardrop means that I’ve made a promise to myself and my family.”
Benway too has witnessed stories of students who admit that they think twice about getting in the car if they are in not in a responsible condition to drive when they see the I Promise teardrop hanging from their mirror.
“I think it’s a passionate ideal between a parent, child or anyone,” she said. “They are making a promise to themselves to not take the road that leads to destruction.”
“I absolutely think that this can change lives. If it changes one person’s life, then it’s worth all the time that I’ve put into it,” Dunlap said. “Things like this are preventable when taking a proactive approach. It’s in that spirit of being proactive that you hope people will give it a second thought.”
If you have someone you love behind the wheel and wish to learn more about sending the I Promise message of hope to friends and family, visit www.ipromise.tv.