Memphis, TN,
08:00 AM

Don't Drive Drowsy – Just Pull Over

A young life lost due to drowsy driving

May 5, 2002, was a Sunday. And it was also a day one Memphis family will never forget.

Kyle Kiihnl spent Saturday night doing things typical 17-year-olds do. He and a friend went to a fast-food restaurant for a late-night snack.

“Kyle was walking home with his friend around 12:30 a.m.” says Kyle’s mother Joni Fox. “Kyle’s friend was going to spend the night at our house. He and Kyle were childhood buddies. They were only a few blocks from home.”

Without warning, a pick-up truck jumped the curb and plowed into them. The teenage driver had fallen asleep.

Joni got a phone call telling her there had been an accident. She immediately went to the crash site and found out Kyle had been transported to the hospital. Later at the E.R., she was told they were unable to save him.

“He was a great kid to be around,” says Joni. “He was an award-winning wrestler before this tragedy. He was an exceptional student. Kyle enjoyed restoring his 1974 Firebird and playing the guitar. He loved anything to do with computers.”

His family and friends do not want his early death to be his legacy. They created the Kyle W. Kiihnl Memorial Foundation in his memory. The mission is to raise awareness of the dangers of drowsy driving.

Kyle's aunt, Kathi Wright, does most of the public speaking on behalf of the Foundation. Her audience is students at local high schools and driving schools.

There are 368,000 drowsy driving crashes per year,” says Kathi. “That number is unacceptable. These crashes are preventable.”

The Foundation focuses on young drivers, age 16 – 25, as they are five times more likely to drive drowsy.

In the early years of the Foundation, many people told Kathi, “I don’t care about your cause. We all drive drowsy at times.”

But things are starting to turn around. The Tennessee Department of Transportation agreed to share their message. “Finally someone listened,” she says. "Please Don't Drive Drowsy" displays on interstate message boards across the state.

Also, traffic safety experts now consider it one of the four D’s of dangerous driving. "Drunk, Drugged, Distracted and Drowsy." In each case, “D” also stands for dangerous.

Kyle’s mom, grandmother, and a board of volunteers are involved in the work of the Foundation as well. “A drowsy driver took the only boy in our family and he was awesome,” says Grandmother Kate Brown.

The Foundation, which is supported financially by State Farm and local agents like David J. Ross, hosts a 5K race as a fundraiser each year. The theme is "get a good night's sleep." Participants wear pajamas. A local store gives away a mattress. The funds go towards scholarships in Kyle’s honor.

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