PERSPECTIVE: Enduring Impact of Risky Driving Can Change Anyone’s Life

by Nikole Doolittle and Sherry Chapman "This upcoming New Year’s Day will mark 14 years since I woke up in the intensive care unit of Hartford Hospital, unable to walk, talk, eat, or even breathe on my own.  I had been in a coma for 28 days, and had sustained a traumatic brain injury.

I can still remember that night like it was yesterday.  I headed out with a group of friends and the newly licensed driver decided to test out his speed.  When we hit what seemed like 100, all of us in the car screamed for the driver to stop or at least slow down, we were so scared.  One of my friends remembers the boys counting the speed up to 127 trying to beat their last record of 125.

I was told the driver had lost control of the car, it hit the guardrails on the right side of the highway and then flipped left rolling across the highway, through the median, landing on the other side.  At some point while the car was rolling I was thrown through the back window.   Once the paramedics showed up, I was unresponsive so they put me on life support right in the median of the highway.  For the next 30 days, I never took another breath on my own."

This is how Nikole Doolittle begins as she shares her heart wrenching experience with students at high schools and, most recently, Windham Middle School, as a part !MPACT's Drive 4 Tomorrow program.

Early in Nikole's recovery, she knew she had to do something to help combat motor vehicle crashes caused by young drivers, the number one killer of teens in America. She met members of !MPACT (an acronym for Mourning Parents Act, Inc.) at a presentation she made at Cromwell High School. Not long afterwards, she began delivering her safe teen driving message with the !MPACT moms at high schools across Connecticut and into greater New England.

All members of !MPACT have been directly affected by tragedy involving teen driving. Everyone has a horrific story. Sadly, Nikole fit right in.

!MPACT's mission is to eliminate tragedies caused by inexperienced drivers through awareness, education and legislation. The group raises awareness with their "Somebody Loves You" billboard initiative. They educate by delivering their heart wrenching Drive 4 Tomorrow presentations, in which members share their personal stories and teach teens how to protect themselves and their friends from becoming statistics. They fight hard for safety legislation to protect teen drivers, their passengers, and those of us who share the roads with them. The group was instrumental in helping to develop and pass into law Connecticut's graduated drivers licensing program, which serves to introduce the novice driver to the driving experience in a gradual manner.

This is how Nikole ends her story:

"I had taken for granted the daily routine of my life, getting up, brushing my teeth, combing my hair, eating, walking, even the simple task of talking.  These were all ordinary events which suddenly disappeared on the night of January 1, 2004. 

A lot has happened since then, one year of hospitals, two years of therapy, three eye surgeries, one stomach surgery, one mouth surgery, and a lifetime of memory problems. It has taken me well over eight years of rehab, therapy, and figuring out who I had become. Despite this, I landed a job with United Technologies, moved over 12 hours away and thrived on my own for five years. I finally returned home to Connecticut to be near family this past September.

When sharing my story, I try to remind these newly licensed drivers, that anything can happen to anybody – and driving is a huge responsibility.  I appear to be like everyone else, but I am not. I try to remind my audience that I could have been.  Once you make a bad decision, there is no turning back."


Sherry Chapman is Co-founder and President of Mourning Parents Act, Inc.

All of !MPACT's services are offered for free. Members of !MPACT include families, friends, and victims, and all donate their own time and resources to advance the mission of the organization.  If you are interested in having !MPACT present its Drive 4 Tomorrow program at your high school or other forum, please contact Sherry Chapman at 860-209-7070.  !MPACT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by donations, grants, and one annual fundraiser––their annual Tee Off For Teen Driving Safety golf tournament will be held at Blackledge Country Club in Hebron on Monday, June 26.