Parents Who Change the World

Not Just Politics

A parent's passion is a powerful tool for pushing through legislation. "When we meet with a mother or father and hear the story of how their child died because of a dangerous product, it fuels our commitment to implement laws that can save lives," says Scott Wolfson, director of the Office of Information and Public Affairs at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Fennell is more blunt: "You can't just turn away from a grieving parent."

These kinds of tragedies irrevocably change not only a parent's daily routine but also how she sees herself in the world. "I always thought I was a strong person, but I didn't realize the depth of that inner strength," says Heather Vandenberghe, of New York City, whose 3-year-old daughter, Elle, was injured, almost fatally, when she was hit by a reckless driver who was reversing into a parking space while Elle and her nanny were walking to her preschool.

Three months after the accident, Vandenberghe's older daughter, Lila, asked if the man who hit Elle was in jail. Vandenberghe knew the driver had walked away with nothing more than a traffic citation. "I lied to her and said yes, because I just couldn't tell her the truth," says Vandenberghe. "I wanted Lila to believe that there is justice. At that moment I realized that I never wanted to have to lie to my daughter again. I wanted to do something." Two months later—lightning speed in the political arena—Elle's Law was passed by the New York Senate and Assembly, mandating a minimum six-month license suspension for drivers who injure pedestrians while driving recklessly. Shocked and dismayed that 37 states don't have pedestrian-safety laws, Vandenberghe is taking her campaign to the federal level. You can join the fight at elleslaw.org.

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