By EDITH ZHOU
Capital News Service
LANSING – After its first year’s success, the Strive for a Safer Drive project is driving into its second year with more than double the number of participating schools.
The program is a public-private partnership among AAA Michigan, Ford Driving Skills for Life and the Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Jessica Russell, program manager, said 16 high schools participated last year. That number increased to 34 this year in 15 counties.
“This year, the whole class or school clubs is participating in the project instead of the small groups in the past. That means we also have more students in school getting involved,” she said.
Russell said last year was a pilot period of the project, and the latest campaigns are more diverse and innovative.
“We have music classes and physics classes participating, and the diversity and innovation of their campaign proposals are really exciting. For example, a physics class is trying to simulate the crashes with the knowledge they learn from class,” she said
Nancy Cain, the communication specialist at AAA Michigan, said the program put three organizations together with a goal to alert students how important safe driving is.
“We are a traffic safety group. We are interested in teenagers’ traffic safety. Reports show that there are more teenagers dying in crashes in recent years.”
Melody Kindraka, the communication coordinator of the Office of Highway Safety Planning, said that the program is helpful because students are more willing to hear from teenagers than adults.
According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, about one of every eight 16- to 17-year-old drivers is involved in a property damage, injury or fatal crash each year.
AAA is providing $2,000 to each school for students to create teen-led traffic safety campaigns aimed at educating their classmates.
The funding and resources are used to help teens talk to other teens about safe driving and address the leading cause of death for them, traffic crashes. The program is open to high schools in the counties with the most teen traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
Among the selected high schools are Careerline and Grand Haven in Ottawa County, Cass Tech in Detroit, De La Salle and Utica in Macomb County, and Eastern and Okemos in Ingham County.
Russell said that there were some excellent campaigns last year. “For example, Vandercook Lake High School in Jackson shot a video for the campaign, and they ran around the whole community, doing presentations and made it educational for both school students and community residents.”
According to Russell, schools determined to have the top campaigns after a series of activities are eligible to send students to a free hands-on driving clinic with professional instructors and drive the newest Ford cars.
During the day-long ride-and-drive events, students get behind the wheel and negotiate driving courses designed to teach critical skills such as hazard recognition, accident avoidance, vehicle handling, skid control and speed management. The trainings are sponsored by Ford Driving Skills for Life.
Cain said that 27 of the 34 participating high schools selected distracted driving as the focus of their campaign.
“The campaign topics highlight that students are aware that the distracted driving is the biggest traffic safety issue. Information on the reality of how dangerous distracted driving can be, tips for being good passengers and pledges not to text while driving will be included in the campaign,” she said.
By EDITH ZHOU