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The Journal Gazette

  • Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette BrainWorks Multimedia President Barry VonLanken, wife and company CEO Lisa VonLanken and son Aaron, check the company’s redesigned website. The local company develops training videos using eLearning development software.

Saturday, March 05, 2016 10:11 pm

Safe driving encouraged

Patrick Murphy | For The Journal Gazette

Barry VonLanken knows the heartache that comes with traffic deaths. His father, Ervin, was killed in 1997 near his home in Kankakee, Illinois, by a driver who had been drinking.

"It was tragic and painful," he said.

More than a decade later, VonLanken gets satisfaction knowing the work his company does for the National Safety Council may help others avoid that pain and heartache.

"If our efforts help save one life," he said, "it’s worth it."

VonLanken’s company, BrainWorks Multimedia, is part of NSC’s efforts to reduce traffic crashes by producing videos designed to get bad drivers off the road. The videos promote safety to inexperienced learners and seasoned drivers.

"We provide the message on safe driving," said James Solomon, subject matter expert for defensive driving for the NSC. But BrainWorks has made it possible to more effectively deliver that message in high schools or traffic courts around the country, he said.

The NSC recognized the company’s efforts by awarding BrainWorks an "Excellence in Highway Safety Award" last year for innovations in driver training.

"With its innovations, the company has made it possible for instructors to use PowerPoint, animation and simulation at the same time to drive home the importance of safe driving," Solomon said.

The importance of safe driving was underscored in a U.S. Department of Transportation report released this year that showed traffic deaths at an all-time high. The report said there were 26,000 traffic deaths in the first nine months of 2015 compared with 23,796 during the same period in 2014, a 9.3 percent increase.

Several factors, including more drivers on the road with lower unemployment and the lowest gasoline ­prices in nearly a decade, contribute to deadly increases, Solomon said. 

VonLanken came to Fort Wayne in 1986 after graduating from Taylor University where his wife was also a student.

"My first job was here," he said. "We liked the community, and we put down roots. My wife taught school at Blackhawk Christian and our children went to school there. We became fully immersed in Fort Wayne."

VonLanken’s first job was with a communications business.

Others included commuting to a company in Ohio and producing videos for an auto supplier in Auburn.

"Each of my jobs involved video production," he said, "and each job was a good foundation and helped prepare me for what I’m doing now with my own company."

One of those companies continues to be a good customer.

"We’ve worked with Barry and his company for roughly a decade," said Marie Sasso, director of education and development for Bridgestone Retail Operations in Bloomingdale, Illinois.

"His company is very flexible and it produces high quality products" for Bridgestone customers as well as in-house company use, she said.

One of BrainWorks’ products is "Meeting in a Box," Sasso said, an easy-to-use guide for store managers that goes out to 2,300 stores.

VonLanken is proud of all his company’s products, but said the work done for the National Safety Council – including videos aimed at professional drivers – is exceptionally gratifying.

"Safe driving is a national concern," he said. "It’s great to be recognized for making a contribution."

Working with problem drivers is challenging, he said.

"Some are hard core, and will never change," he said. Others just need some prompting – very often from a judge. Some unsafe drivers may have a bad day, he explained, and they get angry or careless, and bad things happen.

But the core message for new drivers as well as professionals is basically the same.

"You can’t do anything about how anybody else drives," VonLanken said. "You can only control your own driving. Be respectful of other drivers, but be responsible for yourself."

Being responsible for yourself includes obeying traffic laws and wearing seat belts, VonLanken continued.

"If you’re fatigued, pull over someplace safe and take a nap," he said. The consequences of unsafe driving are bad and long lasting. "If you kill the mother leaving small children, you will remember that for a long time."

Fortunately business is growing, VonLanken said. His company’s main focus is developing markets in Indiana and the U.S. "But we hope to expand inter­nationally," he said. "One of our videos has already been translated into Spanish."