Greenback teen, mom crusade in D.C. for auto safety
Joe Polakiewicz lies in a hospital bed at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in 2010. Polakiewicz, then a 16-year-old junior at Catholic High School, was severely injured in a car accident. Doctors had to remove his spleen and left kidney. (Family photo)

Joe Polakiewicz lies in a hospital bed at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in 2010. Polakiewicz, then a 16-year-old junior at Catholic High School, was severely injured in a car accident. Doctors had to remove his spleen and left kidney. (Family photo)


Joe Polakiewicz speaks out for teen auto safety at an Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety press conference in Washington, D.C. Polakiewicz became an advocate on the importance of safe driving following his own severe auto accident in October 2010. Looking on is his mother, Nancy. (Elijah Herington/ SHFWire)
WASHINGTON Tennessee was one of the nation's 18 safest states in the ninth annual road safety report, "The 2012 Roadmap to State Highway Safety Laws."

However, the report still recorded 1,031 Tennessee vehicle fatalities in 2010. And a Greenback, Tenn., mother and son attended the report's release to speak out for teen auto safety.

Nancy and Joe Polakiewicz became outspoken advocates following Joe's own brush with death in October 2010. As Joe Polakiewicz, then a 16-year-old junior at Knoxville Catholic High School, headed to see a friend, he looked down, which caused him to veer off the road and run head-on into a tree. The accident nearly took his life.

"My spleen and left kidney had to be removed," he said. "I had fractures in my vertebrae, ribs and pelvis, and my urethra was severed from my bladder."

Joe Polakiewicz said he still cannot remember the accident, but knows that if emergency responders had not arrived quickly, he might not be here.

The report, generated by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, follows all 50 states and the District of Columbia's adherence to safety group's grading scale.

"We evaluated the states on 15 basic traffic safety laws," Advocates President Jacqueline Gillan said.

Tennessee's ranking in the top 18 means the state has passed laws covering 10.5 or more of the suggested 15, including primary enforcement of seat-belt laws. This law allows officers to pull drivers over solely for not wearing a seat belt. In some states, seat-belt laws can be enforced only if drivers are pulled over for other traffic violations.

The 15 traffic laws include:

n Three occupant-protection measures.

n Seven elements of a comprehensive graduated driver's licensing program.

n Four impaired driving laws, including ignition interlock laws for all offenders.

n An all-driver text messaging ban.

Unlike many who continue life as normal after similar situations, the Polakiewiczes see their luck as an opportunity to spread the word and raise awareness for teen driver restrictions.

"I just feel that Joe's survival is a miracle and maybe he survived for a reason," said Nancy, who works at the Turkey Creek Medical Center. "I need to tell his story to prevent others from going through that."

To this, Joe Polakiewicz added, "I don't want anyone to lose everything they've worked for."

Some of the worst-performing states in the study are South Dakota, with 3 points, and Arizona, with 4.5 points.