As a Tazewell County sheriff’s deputy, John Shallenberger has a professional interest in highway safety.

In September, to honor his dedication to making roads safer and to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Ford Driving Skills for Life program, the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Governors Highway Safety Association named Shallenberger one of six nationwide Unsung Heroes of Highway Safety.

The Unsung Heroes were the guests of honor at a reception in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The reception included an awards presentation, a VIP tour of the Capitol Building and a celebration in the Russell Building’s Kennedy Caucus Room.

“Throughout the past 15 years with Ford Driving Skills for Life, we’ve met hundreds of individuals who share our passion and commitment to traffic safety,” said Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Company Fund, in an Oct. 21 press release. “The six unsung heroes we are recognizing have dedicated themselves – personally and professionally – to making roads safer in their local communities and beyond.”

When 15 Tazewell County teens died in car crashes within a 15-month period in 2005 and 2006, a coalition of concerned citizens formed the Tazewell Teen Initiative. Shallenberger was one of the organization’s founding members.

“(The Tazewell Teen Initiative) has people from all sectors, including education, law enforcement and business,” he said. “We came together to find solutions to all the crashes. One of our ideas was to come up with education programs for teen drivers. Because of all the problems we’d had in Tazewell, (Ford Motor Company) Fund brought the Driving Skills for Life program here, and we were able to get it into all seven high schools in the county.”

The Tazewell Teen Initiative’s missions are to teach youth and community members about substance abuse prevention, act to promote safety and responsible behavior and invest in the future of Tazewell County. The Ford Motor Company credited the group with playing a pivotal role in reducing the number of area traffic fatalities over the past 12 years. Shallenberger is currently the organization’s co-chairman.

“I enjoy teaching driver’s education and helping out,” he said. “I was actually surprised to be named an Unsung Hero, because I’m really just part of a team. Our success with traffic safety is really a result of the community coming together. I’m just a part of that.”