WOODSTOCK, Ga. (WRBL) – Almost a decade ago, a young football player was killed in a crash caused by distracted, impaired driving; today, his father is an advocate for safe driving. In honor of Distracted Driving Awareness month, Mike Lutzenkirchen, 60, the founder and executive director of the the Lutzie 43 Foundation, shared how he hopes to reduce wrecks caused by distracted, intoxicated driving.

The foundation was created in 2014 by Lutzenkirchen, after the death of his son Phillip, who was 23 years old. “Lutzie” was Phillip’s nickname and 43 was the number on his jersey when he played football for Auburn University in Alabama.

Lutzenkirchen said Phillip had spent the day drinking with friends before they got into one of the friends’ trucks around 2:30 a.m. to go to a convenience store. The driver was speeding when missed a stop sign and crashed. Phillip and the driver were not wearing seatbelts when the vehicle flipped and both were killed. A woman in the rear passenger seat survived in what Lutzenkirchen called a “miracle.” A male passenger wearing a seatbelt survived and ran for help.

“They were not wearing seatbelts, driving intoxicated, driving well-after midnight,” Lutzenkirchen said, and explained the accident Phillip died in was due mixture of safety issues, not just distracted driving. Lutzenkirchen added while he supports other, less holistic campaigns targeting drunk and distracted driving, he wanted to create something which was more all-encompassing.  

Lutzenkirchen also detailed how the Lutzie 43 Foundation created a visual cue to remind people to make safer choice before getting on the road.

The foundation launched their 43 Key Seconds project and give people lanyards with a “countdown card” and key emblazoned with the number 43. On the card is a checklist for drivers to verify their readiness to drive based on factors including intoxication, emotional distress, distractedness and more.

Lutzenkirchen expressed hopes people would hang the lanyards from their rearview mirrors as a symbol that might incite behavioral changes leading to safer driving.   

Several states prohibit driving with an object that blocks the drivers view when driving, although hanging something from the rearview mirror while parked and removing it for driving purposes is not forbidden.

Lutzenkirchen has presented his son’s story for high schools, colleges and corporate businesses alike. He said he will continue as long as the initiative is needed. Lutzenkirchen explained fatalities due to distracted or intoxicated driving are still prevalent. 

According to the United States Department of Transportation, between 2019 and 2020 there was 14% increase in traffic deaths caused by drunk driving and deaths average at about one fatality every 45 minutes. The NHTSA website also states over 3,500 died in wrecks related to distracted driving in 2021.

The CDC’s website notes that drug-related driving incidents are also a significant issue although less is known about how they compare to alcohol-related incidents due to data limitations.

“Phillip didn’t die in an accident,” Lutzenkirchen said about his son’s death. He continued on and said, “He and a friend died in a crash. There were deliberate decisions that were poorly made.”

The foundation director encouraged people to support the cause by investing in 43 Key Second lanyards which are $9.99 on Amazon, participate in the Lutzie 43 road race and request him to come speak at schools and businesses. More information about the foundation can be viewed on www.lutzie43.org.

On May 11, they will host their 7th annual golf fundraiser at Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama. The Lutzie 43 foundation is based in Woodstock, Georgia.