Partnering with the Lutzie 43 Foundation, Mayor’s goal is to eliminate distracted driving — first in Bluffton, then across South Carolina.
As the mayor of Bluffton, SC, Lisa Sulka has long been focused on the children — most importantly, on keeping them alive.
The death of two nephews in auto accidents attributed to distracted driving clarified her mission: Keep phones out of the hands of drivers.
Unlike neighbor Georgia, South Carolina does not prohibit by law the use of a cell phone while operating a vehicle. That’s not true in Bluffton, where Mayor Sulka worked to enact an ordinance two years ago that bans texting and driving.
“Drive down any road, and you’ll see a roadside memorial to someone who died in an accident,” says Mayor Sulka. “It’s long been clear to me that we have to do whatever we can to make our roads safer, our people safer.”
She started a safe-driving program in Bluffton, but found it difficult to start an initiative from scratch and maintain momentum. It was fizzling out when, about eight months ago, Mayor Sulka saw an Instagram post by the Lutzie 43 Foundation, a non-profit founded after the death of Auburn University football star Phillip Lutzenkirchen in 2014.
The Foundation’s mission is to encourage and empower young people to be ambassadors for safe driving through character development, mentorship and real-world application.
“It was sort of a God-wink to me,” Mayor Sulka says. “I realized that this is how our town could get a safe-driving program going again. It was one of those moments where it’s clear everyone is on the same page.”
A strong connection already existed between the Sulka family and the Lutzenkirchen family, and connecting to the Foundation made it stronger. Mayor Sulka’s son, Michael, was a member of the Auburn team when Phillip died in a car wreck. Michael, along with a bus load of Auburn Tigers, attended Phillip’s funeral. And Mike Lutzenkirchen, Phillip’s father and executive director of Lutzie 43, has become a friend to Mayor Sulka as they work together to bring the Foundation’s programs to the Bluffton’s two high schools and beyond.
The Bluffton program is taking shape. The schools have created athlete leadership programs, Mike Lutzenkirchen has spoken to area schools and colleges, and local businesses like Peacock Automotive are urging customers to “Take the Pledge,” an initiative by the Foundation to get people to commit to not take part in distracted driving.
Beyond raising awareness of safe driving in Bluffton, one of South Carolina’s fastest growing communities, Mayor Sulka wants to take her crusade to the state Capitol and get laws toughened across South Carolina.
“I want to see a hands-free bill passed for South Carolina,” says Mayor Sulka. “One that makes everyone put their phone down and hands on the wheel. If we can get that passed, that will make me happy.”
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