November 13, 2019

Saving Lives One Safety Vest at a Time

Ziff proudly holding one of the many safety vests before distributing them around the community. Photo courtesy of Sherri Ziff.

After surviving a hit-and-run accident a year ago, Los Angeles entertainment industry life coach Sherri Ziff is now a devoted advocate for road and pedestrian safety.

“I feel strongly about this,” Ziff said. “Not many people survive what happened to me. HaShem gave me a second chance and I need to make my life worthy of the second chance.”

According to the American Automobile Association, there is a hit-and-run every 43 seconds in the United States. In 2016, 2,049 deaths were caused by hit-and-run accidents, 337 of them in California. These statistics troubled Ziff, so in the past year she has been working to save  lives through her advocacy group, You’ve Been Hit and Run, and  her eBook, “You’ve Been Hit and Run: What You Must Do Now.” 

Ziff said she is working closely with the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Motor Vehicles to help them obtain the search software they need to solve hit-and-run cases and to help provide support to hit-and-run victims.

She also found a quick and simple way to help ensure pedestrians and cyclists stay safe: handing out neon safety vests to passersby on the street.

Sherri Ziff captures a biker wearing one her of safety vest.

“I flag down joggers and people on bikes all the time and say, ‘I’m advocating for pedestrian safety — can I give you this?’ And they say, ‘Whoa, yeah.’ People respond when you offer them. The challenge is how do you get them to wear [the vests] again?”

Last month, Ziff handed out 3,000 safety vests for people to wear going to and from synagogue in time for Shavuot. She said it’s easy for people to blame drivers alone for hit-and-run accidents, but pedestrians also need to be proactive.

“We can’t blame it all on the drivers,” Ziff said. “We have to take responsibility for ourselves. A guy in a dark suit running across the middle of a dark street? You’re flat out playing Russian roulette with your life.”

“I flag down joggers and people on bikes all the time and say, ‘I’m advocating for pedestrian safety — can I give you this?’ And they say, ‘Whoa, yeah.’ People respond when you offer them.” — Sherri Ziff

Prior to Shavuot, Ziff had already been purchasing the vests at the 99-cent store but decided to make a  bigger push for the holiday. In a last-minute effort, she called her friend Greg Yaris who reached out to rabbis at The Happy Minyan and Pico Shul to see if they could donate so Ziff could buy more vests. In a matter of hours, she had a couple of thousand dollars and was running to every 99-cent store in the area. There are now safety vests available at a dozen shuls including The Happy Minyan and Pico Shul for congregants to pick up.

Ben Schwartzman, David Notowitz and Josh Klugman wearing safety vests after services.

“She is a really special person and a powerhouse of a human being,” Aleph Institute Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky said. “It’s remarkable how she transformed her experience into a movement to save lives. I am definitely connected and on board to help.”

While Ziff now has many area synagogues on her side, she also has personally handed out vests while hiking up to the Hollywood sign, at the grocery store and at a cafe in Beverly Hills. But, she said, more and more drivers are speeding through side streets in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. 

“It’s not safe,” she said. “You [can] stand on any intersection on Pico-Robertson for 15 minutes and you will see someone run a stop sign or you will see someone speeding through. It’s just the new norm now.” 

Ziff is working with Boyarsky to coordinate distributing safety vests in the La Brea area in September, during California Pedestrian Safety month. She is also reaching out to state assembly members to sponsor hit-and-run safety bills and Ziff hopes to create safety vest decorating events at schools.

“Kids, at whatever age, could draw on them and they get to keep that one and then they get a plain one for their parents,” she said. “I think parents can get on board when they hear, ‘Mommy, Daddy, wear this. I want you to be safe.’ I’d like to think you can’t argue with that.”  

Ziff said she hopes that as long as the vests are easily available, she will continue to hand them out and hopes others will join her cause. Her main goal is to prevent more hit-and-run accidents from happening.

“My experience has made me acutely aware of the fragility of life as well as the traffic dangers in our community,” she said. “Our Jewish values inspire tikkun olam and taking immediate action.” 

For more information or to get involved, email or visit her website. 

CORRECTIONS: This story has been corrected with information regarding the amount of money raised for the safety vests and where they were distributed.