It’s easy to have a long career in public service without much to show for it.

Issues that were the height of controversy in their day grow hazy over time. Huge amounts of effort are put into keeping bad things from happening, and when those efforts succeed, the accomplishments are invisible.

Dan Gwadosky, who died last week at the age of 57, took part in many of those battles in a 33-year career that began with his election to the Legislature and spanned a term as speaker of the House and eight years as secretary of state. The Fairfield native fought hard, both in the spotlight and behind the scenes, on issues that are now relegated to stacks of yellowing newspapers.

But not all of Gwadosky’s accomplishments are invisible: In 1997 he began work on reducing the number of fatal car crashes that involved young drivers. He used his position as secretary of state to draw attention to what was at that time the leading cause of death for young Mainers. He chaired a task force that held hearings around the state.

He then fought to pass the legislation his task force recommended, and stayed with the effort when he didn’t get all that he wanted the first time.

It was a highly effective campaign that raised public awareness of a problem that was not well understood, and put pressure on the Legislature and the governor to act. The effort had measurable success: According to statistics published by the Maine Transportation Safety Coalition, crashes in which at least one driver was between 16 and 24 have plummeted over the last decade, falling from more than 14,000 in 2000, to just over 10,000 in 2009. Fatalities involving that age group have also followed a downward trend, though still remaining intolerably high, averaging almost one a week in the state.

As secretary of state, Gwadosky was confronted with troubling statistics. Young drivers made up 6 percent of the driving public but were involved in 40 percent of crashes.

The typical fatal crash, he found, was not a collision of two vehicles, it was a single car with several passengers driving off the road. The driver was usually a male, driving too fast and not wearing a seat belt.

Armed with this information, Gwadosky championed a law that forbids a young driver from carrying passengers for the first three months after getting a license. It passed in 2000. Gwadosky went back in 2003 and won passage of a three-step graduated license program, that prevented all drivers under 18 from carrying passengers, driving late at night or while using a cellphone for six months after getting a license.

There will never be an acceptable level of fatal crashes involving young people, but Gwadosky’s work to reduce those crashes has made a difference. His efforts may not have just saved lives in Maine, but in the other states that used the reforms made here as a model for their young driver safety initiatives.

When it was needed, Gwadosky showed leadership, and that is something that won’t soon be forgotten.