Driven To Action

The Nassau Expressway is a drag strip to some teenage drivers; sections of the highway are streaked with the rubber remnants of amateur races. Sadly, those same stretches of pavement are often home to bouquets of flowers or clusters of candles memorializing victims of auto accidents. In Robert Bloom’s opinion, those roadside tributes have become all too common.
Bloom, a health teacher and dean at John Adams High School in Ozone Park, got his first lesson in driver safety at a young age. When he was a child, his father, driving a box truck for work at JFK, was t-boned by a teenager racing a friend down a flat strip of blacktop. One of the teens involved was killed.
While his father was traumatized by the accident and never talks about it, Bloom finds it hard to keep quiet. A John Adams graduate himself, Bloom has been teaching driver safety in his classrooms for around 15 years.
At 38, Bloom is not much older than his students are, yet in his opinion, the generational differences are stark.
“This generation is really jumping into the fire. Life is too easy for them,” he said. “My first car was a $300 piece of junk: orange with AM radio. Now you have a kid flipping a 2008 [Dodge] Charger.”
Citing statistics pointing to the upsurge in driving accidents among teens - Bloom considers unsafe driving an epidemic - he explained that parents are partially culpable because they are not aware of the dangers of handing the keys to a youngster. Auto manufacturers are also to blame, according to Bloom, for simply making cars too fast and marketing them as such.
After an accident on the Van Wyck Expressway last month took the lives of four John Adams students, Bloom decided it was time to take his course out of the classroom.
On January 4, he gave a 90 minute driver safety seminar in front of about 70 students and faculty in the school library. With him, as always, were his newspaper clippings and photographs.
“Unfortunately, maybe it’s a little morbid, but I save these articles,” said Bloom, of the 300 or so graphic headlines and images depicting lives lost on the road. He added that he keeps a camera in his car so he can take photographs of the shrines that sprout up at accident sites.
“Cars wrapped around trees grab their eyes,” Bloom said, while acknowledging that he likely has a marginal success rate in converting teenagers into more cautious drivers.
“I felt [the seminar] had an impact on several students,” explained Bloom, who also covered alcohol awareness during his talk. “Unfortunately, I saw the look in the eye of some individuals that once they were out the door they were going to be teenagers.”
Bloom admits to his students that he has not always practiced what he preaches. He even mentions that his own brother got a DWI on Bell Boulevard. But with children of his own, driver safety isn’t just a stump speech for the classroom.
Bloom thinks the driving age should be increased to 20 and only lets his kids ride in his Sport Utility Vehicle.
“It’s a gas guzzler. We do not need it. Environment, greenhouse gases, all that. Nevertheless, I have faith in this thing. I bought this big monster for safety alone,” he said of his SUV.
Bloom mentioned that the girlfriend and cousin of one of the victims from the December accident appreciated his seminar and encouraged him to conduct it more often. Bloom also seemed to feel a sense of solidarity in the discovery that someone else in the area - a woman named only as “Barbara” in a recent Newsday article - was saving newspaper clippings about fatalities from accidents involving drunk drivers (the woman lost a sister to a drunk driver).
“I’m not looking for my 15 minutes here,” said Bloom, explaining that he hopes to get through to even just a handful of students who will, in turn, spread his message onto their peers.
“Students think, ‘It won’t happen to me,’” he said somberly. “But it will.”

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