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Safe driving starts with the turn of a key

Philip Lutzenkirchen, during his days at Auburn.

By Allison Law

It’s been five years since Mike Lutzenkirchen lost his son, Philip, the Auburn student-athlete who played on the school’s 2010 national championship team. More than just a standout tight end, Philip had a servant’s heart, was humble to fault and loved spending time with children, especially those fighting cancer or who had special needs.

Philip was 23 when he died, as a passenger in a drunken- and distracted-driving related car accident. The elements involved – drinking during the day, speeding, lack of seat belt use – resulted in a horrific crash that killed Philip and the driver.

Five years later, his dad, Mike, is the voice of the Lutzie 43 Foundation, founded in Philip’s memory to encourage and empower young people to be positive ambassadors for safe driving. Mike travels constantly, speaking to high school and college organizations and sports teams, church groups and others. He estimates he’s spoken to 180,000 people across the country, sharing his story as a grieving father but also of a parent motivated to create change.

He gets “some pretty incredible” emails from young people who are inspired by his talks. Some feel comfortable talking with him about issues they might not bring up with a parent or teacher.

“I get compliments that I don’t come in and lecture and just rattle off a bunch of stats,” Mike says. “This is a real voice of a real father, talking about the loss of a child. I think kids respect that.”

The Lutzie 43 Foundation’s newest initiative will still bring Mike and his message to young people. He will still talk to them about making better decisions, as drivers and friends.

But Mike thinks the new 43 Key Seconds initiative will also resonate with grown-ups, and has started reaching out to corporations, associations and other companies to create new partnerships.

Keys to success

Mike Lutzenkirchen speaks at the press conference unveiling the new 43 Key Seconds initiative.

Last year, an acquaintance who was familiar with the Lutzie 43 Foundation and its work asked Mike about the future goals of the Foundation. He pointed out that each new day is one more day past Philip’s time on earth. Mike realized that today’s high school seniors weren’t even in high school when Philip died; how could they continue the relevancy of the message, and of Philip’s legacy?

Mike showed the acquaintance information about a program for which Mike has been a keynote speaker – an interactive teen driving summit called URKEYS2DRV (your keys to drive). The acquaintance seized on the symbol of a key, with the idea of pairing it with the number 43 (Philip’s Auburn jersey number) and the words “distraction free.”

They were aware of the successful, catchy safety slogans, such as “click it or ticket” and “drive sober or get pulled over.” But the Foundation wanted to create a campaign based around a tangible reminder – something that will be visible for drivers and easy to keep up with.

The result: a safe driving checklist placard, clipped to a replica of a key and attached to a lanyard. The idea is that the driver will take 43 seconds before starting the vehicle to go through the checklist: “clear head, clear hands, clear eyes, click it; now turn the key.” The driver keeps the lanyard and key on the rearview mirror, or as a keychain.

The lanyard, decorative key and checklist placard that are the symbols of the new initiative.

The tangible items have another benefit: The ability for co-branding. The key and lanyard have the 43 Key Seconds emblem and colors, and there’s room on the back of the key for a company logo or a team’s mascot. So far, the initiative has partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), Georgia State Police, the University of Montevallo and Baldwin Electric Membership Corporation, among others.

“I believe, because of the epidemic nature of distracted and impaired driving, all these companies, regardless of what kind of business they’re in, have an element of safe driving,” Mike says.

He thinks the co-branding will add a level of buy-in to the campaign. “Opelika High School, for example. For those kids to walk out with a 43 Key Seconds key on one side, their logo and their colors on the other, and their logo intermingled on the lanyard. They buy it, that’s my school, that’s part of me.”