Slowing down with Rochelle Sobel

Photo courtesy of Rochelle Sobel

Each year, more than 1.35 million people are killed and more than 50 million are injured on the world’s roads. Potomac resident Rochelle Sobel’s goal is to change those numbers to zero.

Sobel, a member of Beth Sholom Congregation, is founder and president of the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT). She started the organization in 1995 after a bus crash in Turkey killed her 25-year-old son, Aron Sobel, and 22 other passengers.

According to Sobel, the bus driver was speeding in the wrong lane, going down a poorly maintained road with a sharp curve and no guard rail.

After the crash, Sobel needed answers. So she went to the State Department and started asking questions. She wanted to know how many people died in crashes like the one that killed Aron, and how often they happened.

“The most frequent answer was that they didn’t know,” Sobel says.

This was when Sobel decided to found ASIRT. “We were going to be the organization that did know,” she says.

ASIRT was founded with the mission of protecting travelers at home and abroad. Today ASIRT works with Congress, the Department of State and the Department of Transportation, advocating for road safety. Road safety in the United States was once comparatively impressive, according to Sobel. But things have changed.

“The U.S. has really gone down in road safety. It’s really upsetting. We used to be a leader in road safety,” says Sobel, who also teaches Hebrew at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, in Rockville.

She remains optimistic after Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced in January a national plan to address road safety. The National Roadway Safety Strategy features safer people, safer roads, safer vehicles, safer speeds and post-crash care.

According to Sobel, one factor that reduces road safety in the United States is our BAC, or Blood Alcohol Content, limit. In most European countries, the BAC limit for driving is 0.05%, while in other places it’s as low as 0.03%. The United States’ 0.08% limit is much higher.

A 2015 study published by the National Library of Medicine estimated that if all states were to adopt a 0.05% illegal BAC limit, and it was enforced, 500-800 lives could be saved each year.

Sobel isn’t just an advocate on the national stage; her goals stretch across the world. ASIRT’s international efforts include working with the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the strategies laid out at the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety.

On July 1, Sobel, and ASIRT’s executive director of ASIRT, Cathy Silberman, attended the U.N. meeting on Road Safety. Sobel was invited to deliver the keynote address at the panel on multi-stakeholder involvement in road safety for the full assembly of government representatives and important road safety stakeholders.

ASIRT also works with individuals by providing road safety facts, tracking road safety information and providing other resources to help keep travelers safe.

Sobel has a message for every individual preparing to get behind the wheel, “There is nowhere you have to be that’s more important than the life you can save by not speeding.”

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