- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 27, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) — The holiday traffic that will clog the nation’s highways today is more than just an annual inconvenience for Steve Owings.

It’s a heartbreaking reminder of the day three years ago when his son, Cullum, was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer during his drive back to school in Virginia.

“We’ll wake up to it every day for the rest of our lives,” said Steve Owings, who has channeled the grief into Road Safe America, his Atlanta-based nonprofit group dedicated to promoting driver safety. “We want to save others from that.”

Road Safe America recently compelled the U.S. Senate to declare today as Drive Safer Sunday. Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican, made the same declaration for Georgia.

Specialists say the holidays, when millions of people cram into cars for long drives to visit family, are one of the most dangerous times of the year on the nation’s roads.

“Thanksgiving’s the most intense travel period of the year, when you look at the sheer numbers of people taking to the skies and highways in a short period of time,” AAA spokesman Justin McNaull said. “It makes for crowded, and sometimes treacherous, roads.”

It was Dec. 1, 2002, when Cullum Owings and his younger brother, Pierce — both students at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. — left their parents’ home in Atlanta after a Thanksgiving break visit.

That night on a Virginia interstate, Cullum Owings, a 22-year-old senior business major who planned to join the Peace Corps, was stopped in traffic when a speeding tractor-trailer came up behind him. He attempted to swerve his car into the median, but the truck barreled into the driver’s side of the vehicle, pinning Cullum Owings’ car against a stone embankment. He died before rescue workers could get him out.

Pierce Owings suffered only cuts and bruises.

The truck driver was charged with reckless driving and spent a month in jail, the father said.

Steve Owings, a financial adviser, is now doing all he can to prevent similar tragedies.

Georgia’s two senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, led this month’s Senate resolution declaring the day as Drive Safer Sunday. It calls on schools, clergy and law enforcement across the country to do more to encourage safe driving.

“We must do a better job of educating all drivers to be safer on the road,” Mr. Isakson said.

In addition to promoting driver safety, Steve Owings’ group is petitioning for new federal rules regulating the speed of tractor-trailers.

He wants the government to require that speed regulators that already come equipped on new big rigs be activated. He’d like them to limit the speed of tractor-trailers to 65 mph.

“There’s just absolutely no reasonable argument for letting things that weigh 40 times what a passenger car weighs go as fast as they want to,” Steve Owings said.

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