Drive safely, victim warns

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GREAT BARRINGTON - Teaching teens to drive: A shudder- inducing concept to most. But for B.J. Williams, a survivor of a brain injury suffered in a car crash, talking to soon-to-be teen drivers about the dangers of bad road habits is crucial.

"It's the importance of understanding it before they get their licenses," said Williams, who traveled from Westborough on Tuesday to speak to students in a Dave's Driving School class at Monument Mountain Regional High School. "One second of eyes off the road, the distraction can change your life in the worst way." Brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in people ages 15 to 24, Williams said, and car crashes account for almost 40 percent of those injuries in teens.

Williams underscored that such trauma is preventable. Distractions - from eating to texting to friends' chatter - are a major problem, he said, as is not wearing a seat belt.

At 21, Williams was unbuckled in the passenger seat of his friend's car when he crashed on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The accident left Williams with a traumatic brain injury that decimated his sense of taste, smell, hearing in one ear, and - perhaps most wrenchingly - his dream of playing professional hockey. A graduate of the National Sports Academy, Williams was, at the time, playing for the Baystate Breakers, an amateur club.

" Hockey was taken from me," Williams said. " Something I'd worked my whole life for was taken away from me, just from the one time in my life I didn't wear a seat belt."

Six years later, Williams now speaks to teens around the state as the program manager of the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts' Keep Every Youth Safe (KEYS) program. In addition to his stop in Great Barrington, Williams also visited Dave's Driving School classes in Pittsfield last week.

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Williams said the program wasn't about scare tactics, but he did show a few disturbing ad campaigns from Ireland. One video demonstrated how even one unbuckled person can, in a crash, injure or kill other passengers by the blunt force of his or her body ricocheting around. "If you don't wear your seat belt after that, you're out of your mind," said David Blazejewski, the driving school instructor.

Students in the class were equally moved.

During the presentation, some admitted that they occasionally don't buckle up, including 15- year- old Lily Forfa. But by the end of the program, she was having second thoughts about that.

"I learned a lot, personally," she said. "From the experience of not wearing a seat belt, I know I'm definitely going to start."

Forfa was particularly affected by Williams' story about not being able to play his sport anymore, because she's passionate about softball, where she's an outfielder. Liam Burns, 16, is planning to get his license within a month, and was revved up about being a good steward to his passengers once he was behind the wheel.

"It made me think a lot more," he said. "If I'm going to be driving, I'm going to have everyone in my car wear seat belts, and say, 'Don't distract me: I'm not gonna get you killed or me killed.'"

To reach Amanda Korman: akorman@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6243.


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