By: Danny May
Life for the family of Megan Miller was forever changed in an instant. Now, six years later, the Miller family remains committed to their seat belt campaign in hopes of saving others from going through the same pain they endured.
By now you’ve seen the “Buckle Up for Megan” billboards along the bypass, down Frederica, and all over town. You may have even seen the Millers featured in the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety’s commercials on TV or noticed one of the 2,000 or so stickers on the back of cars and trucks.
“All of those things,” Mischelle Miller, Megan’s mother, says, “are meant to be little reminders for people to buckle up. We just try every way we can think of to get that message out. The way we see it, if one person sees a billboard or a sticker or a t-shirt or whatever and remembers to wear their seat belt, then we’re making a difference.”
One of the earliest efforts to spread the “buckle up” message was setting up a cause on Facebook. With the support of Megan’s friends and family, numbers skyrocketed, recently surpassing the 10,000-member milestone, which is quite an accomplishment, because it means the Millers can now accept donations through their Facebook cause. But first they need to file the paperwork to acquire a Federal I.D. number for non-profit status to be officially known as Buckle Up For Megan Miller. Inc.
The morning of March 19, 2006 started as a normal Sunday morning. Megan and her younger sister Morgan had just left church and were heading toward Hwy 54 on the bypass when the car suddenly started swerving and flipped several times. Morgan had her seat belt on and only suffered minor aches and pains. Normally, Megan wore her seat belt too. But for some reason she didn’t have hers on that morning. Consequently, she was thrown from the car and suffered fatal head injuries.
Daviess County High School, where Megan was a junior, immediately started urging their student body to remember to buckle up. Megan’s friends started handing out “buckle up” stickers and t-shirts at school and the campaign was born.
Making a Difference
Just one month after Megan’s wreck, another DCHS student wrecked and flipped her car. This time, though, the student did have her seat belt on. Amazingly, she had a “buckle up” sticker on her car, which flew off during the wreck and landed in her floorboard. The administration had that car brought to the school lawn and displayed “saved by the belt” on the marquee.
Mischelle’s first “event” happened purely by circumstance. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) had a booth set up at DCHS to hand out key chains and bracelets, but they also had some seat belt information as well. Someone called Mischelle and told her she should come sit at the booth too. Soon after, the group that became known as “Lifesavers” formed with the help of Carrie Kimbrell as the faculty advisor.
“Lifesavers really took off in 2008, the year that Megan would have graduated,” Mischelle recalled. “There were a lot of members that year, mostly Megan’s friends and of course Myles and Morgan (Megan’s brother and sister), so we started planning lots of events.”
Those events grew to include seat belt checks, mock crashes, rollover simulators and information booths at community events. This year the Lifesaver Club has a core group of around 40 students who help plan events, make giveaways and handouts and volunteer to work the booth at events.
Eventually, the Lifesaver Club began scheduling events in other schools and out in the community. Partnering with Keith Todd, the media director for the Kentucky Transportation Department, and Cory King with the State Police really took things to the next level.
That’s what got them access to rollover simulators and crash test dummy suits they use at their events. The newest thing is a “texting and driving” simulator to raise awareness about the dangers of texting while driving. Recently, they set up a mock crash in Whitesville and took the rollover and texting simulator to Union County High School. There was also a mock crash set up at Apollo, but it was canceled because of a bad storm, which gave Mischelle the opportunity to speak to the entire senior class.
Beyond school events, the Millers have set up booths at Reid’s Orchard Apple Fest for the past six years, Friday After 5 several times and sponsored a float in the Christmas parade. They’ve also presented at the Noon Optimists Club and the Big Rivers Safety meetings.
“The thing is, people my age and older, we were raised not having to wear our seat belts,” Mischelle explains. “It wasn’t a law in Kentucky until the month Megan died. So anytime we can talk to adults it’s just as important because they can take the message and be an example to their kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or whatever. If we can touch just one person, then we’ve made a difference. And then they take it home.”
The Millers hope to continue to find new ways to partner with other community organizations to remind people to buckle up. A yard sign campaign is also in the works.
It’s easy to see how focused and determined the Millers are about their cause. Because of their relentless effort, the Office of Highway Safety has recognized them for several state and national awards. The first was the “Public Advocacy Award” in 2007, just one year after Megan’s death. Then in March of 2009, they were presented with the “Drive Smart Kentucky Highway Safety Award.” The most prestigious came in 2011, when they received the “Outstanding Public Service Award” plaque from the National Highway Safety Administration at halftime during a UK Football game.
Another great honor came as a complete surprise to Tim and Myles, who were treated to pit passes at Kentucky Speedway for last summer’s NASCAR Truck Series race at Sparta. Tim sells parts to a company called Flexco, who is a sponsor for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The owners of Flexco arranged for Kyle Busch to meet Tim and Myles, and then used their advertising spot on the side of Kyle’s truck to display a picture of a “buckle up for Megan” billboard instead. Kyle told them he was honored to drive for their cause and that night his wife even tweeted about being touched by the Miller’s story.
The buckle up campaign is obviously a love-driven passion for the Miller family. But six years into it, I get the sense they are just getting started. The awards are nice, but it’s not about that. It’s about constantly reminding people to make a life-saving decision. It’s also a way to find purpose, meaning and closure.
“I miss her like crazy,” Mischelle concludes, “but I’ve found peace because of what we’ve done. It’s helping me grieve. Somehow it helps me get past it. I know that she’s by my side. And we can’t quit now.”