Jan. 25, 2021

Spartan creates foundation to remember son, end driving distractions

MSU freshmen Mitchel Kiefer was tragically killed on Sept. 19, 2016, in an auto accident caused by a distracted driver on I-96. The neuroscience student was returning to MSU after a nice weekend with his family.

GM executive Steve Kiefer is dedicated to ending driving distractions. In 2018, he visited with MSU at NAIAS.
GM executive Steve Kiefer, pictured here at NAIAS in 2018, is dedicated to ending distracted driving in remembrance of his son, Mitchel.

Steve Kiefer, Mitchel's father, is a Spartan Engineer, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He is a member of the MSU Engineering Alumni Association Advisory Board and is GM's key executive at MSU.

Soon after Mitchel's death, Steve Kiefer founded The Kiefer Foundation to honor Mitchel. The foundation’s mission is to end distracted driving and all associated traffic deaths and injuries. The foundation focuses on three pillars to support its mission, awareness, technology and policy. Within each of these pillars are specific goals they hope to achieve and initiatives in which they hope to get involved.

“Until something like this happens to you personally, I don't think people really understand the magnitude of this problem,” Kiefer said. “It's important for people to realize that, around the world, because this is a global problem, 1.25 million people are killed on the highways of the world every year. It's a huge number. Some 50 million are injured or disabled every year in car crashes and pedestrian related car crashes around the world. We lose somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 people on the highways of the United States each year. It's a staggering number.

“The folks who do the analysis on distracted driving estimate that about 10 percent of those are due to distracted driving. We honestly believe that number is way under reported. As a matter of fact, the stats would generally say that 94 percent of crashes that occur on the highways are due to some type of human error. It could be speeding or drinking and driving or drowsiness, but we know a large percentage of those are distracted driving.

Mitchel Kiefer was a freshman neuroscience student at MSU when he was killed in 2016 in a traffic accident.
Mitchel Kiefer was a freshman neuroscience student at MSU when he was killed in 2016 in a traffic accident.

"The simple statistic that I think is most staggering,” Kiefer continued, “is that 10 people are killed every day in this country by distracted driving. And it's just, again, until you go through it, it's just hard for me to imagine that today and tomorrow and the next day, every day, we're going to have another 10 people, another 10 families going through what my family has gone through. And it really is one of the prime motivators for us to get something done here and really bring an end to distracted driving.

“The story never gets easier to tell. It was Sept.19, 2016 - the worst day of our lives. Mitchel was in his first month at MSU. He had come home for a nice weekend to go see a Lions game. He was driving up to MSU on I-96 early Monday morning about 7:50. It was a beautiful Monday morning, the sun was out, the roads were dry, and there was no reason for a crash to occur. There was a little bit of traffic congestion. The traffic slowed down, and Mitchel slowed down. The young lady behind him did not. She impacted Mitchel's car at about 82 miles an hour.

“As most people probably know, when airbags deploy, there's a flight recording function inside modern automobiles. You get the forensics from the vehicle. It was clear that the car was going 82 miles an hour, but also that, at the time of impact, the driver's foot was on the throttle, not on the brake. That's a pretty clear indication that the young lady was not paying attention and never touched the brakes. That resulted in Mitchel being rear-ended and driven across a very narrow median on I-96 near Dietz Road, a narrow median that had no guardrails at the time. Mitchel was driven into oncoming traffic where he was hit by a large truck and killed instantly.

“It's a horrific thing to think that one small act of lack of paying attention, of distraction, can just really destroy lives forever.”

Hear Kiefer discuss the good work being done by the foundation and GM innovations in a podcast with Russ White of WKAR: here.