An illustration of an orange car on a blue background

Credit: illustration by Jin Xia


Pandemic on wheels

I swore I wouldn't join a sorority. I am not a "sorority girl." Yet here I was in Alpha Phi, the most nonsorority sorority I could find. We worked hard, played hard. Everything changed when a sister, Miriam Frankl, was killed by a drunk driver. She was walking to campus. He had 17 DUIs.

Miriam and I weren't particularly close, but we shared close friends. Their grief fueled my anger over a promising young life cut short.

The morning after Miriam was killed, I went for a walk. I felt the rain mix with my tears, the pavement beneath my feet. I called my parents because I could. I asked myself, why not me?

In class that week, we discussed injury prevention. I wanted to make sure no one had to cross that dangerous street again and proposed a pedestrian bridge from the dorms to campus. My professor Jon Vernick shared three reasons why that idea wouldn't work. The homeowners association would fight it because pedestrian bridges are ugly. They are historically underused because—in the words of my professor and idol, injury prevention pioneer Sue Baker, SPH '68 (MPH)—the safest way must be the easiest way. Finally, public health is about preventing injuries on a large scale, not just on one corner. Why not fight against drunk driving statewide?

Professor Vernick promised to help. We formed a coalition, redesigned campus streets, and lobbied for state legislation that would help prevent drunk driving through ignition interlocks and breathalyzers in cars. If such a law had been in effect in October 2009, Miriam might be here today. But the legislation never came to a vote.

The following year, two sorority sisters, Aliza Fishbein, A&S '10, BSPH '16 (MPH), and Molly Dillon, A&S '11, led the fight. In 2016, it passed. Miriam's legacy would save lives.

Miriam is not alone. From Senegal to Sweden, I have heard stories like hers. Road traffic crashes are the leading killer of young people ages 5 to 29 globally. Every death is preventable.

The pandemic on wheels is unacceptable. In the years since Miriam's death, I've gotten married, had two beautiful children. I ask myself, why not her? My goal is simple—that one day, there will be no stories like Miriam's.

In the meantime, I will keep sharing her story, though it is not mine to tell. Miriam should be here to write it.

Natalie Draisin is the director of the North America office and United Nations representative for the FIA Foundation. She is also the deployment strategist for the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, a passive breathalyzer test in vehicles.