DeKALB – DeKalb High School junior Maddy Johnson figures the dangers of adjusting music and texting while driving are bigger than most people realize.
“I would say music is another big thing too,” Johnson said of the growing trend of handheld devices connecting with car speakers to play music. “You’re really involved with the phone even if you’re not texting. You’re still looking down, trying to change what song it is.”
Johnson and 34 other students are participating in a State Farm Insurance initiative called Celebrate My Drive, which is designed to spread awareness about teen driving safety. Nearly anyone older than 14 can help.
About 2,800 U.S. and Canadian high schools are competing for 90 $25,000 grants and 10 $100,000 grants. The grand prize is a hometown concert by Grammy Award-winning singer Kelly Clarkson.
The numbers suggest that young drivers can be more susceptible to the dangers of distracted driving than those in older age groups.
Drivers ages 18 to 20 years old reported the highest level of “phone involvement” (13 percent) in a crash or near-crash in a national survey on distracted driving, according to an April 2012 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Eight percent were sending a text or email, 3 percent were reading a text or email, and 2 percent said they were talking on a cellphone.
But starting Oct. 18, participants commit to driving safely to help DeKalb High School win the competition. By logging on to celebratemydrive.com and registering to support DeKalb High School, anyone 14 and older can participate. Participants need a valid email address and must enter their date of birth for confirmation.
Participants can log on and commit to safe driving once per day, each day, through Oct. 26. The more safe driving commitments made for DeKalb High School, the better the chance at winning $100,000 and hosting the concert.
Mark Sykes, DeKalb’s driver education teacher, and Tricia Maxwell, a DeKalb High School parent, are working with the students to promote the program and rally the community around safe driving.
“Teens are inundated with a lot more distractions than we were when I was a teen,” Sykes said. “With texting now available, more accidents have occurred and more lives have been lost due to distracted driving.”
He noted that distractions also include listening to music with ear buds, or even just having the volume too loud.
“I would say any electronic devices [can contribute to distraction] because it goes far beyond texting,” Sykes said. “Drinking and driving is still the No. 1 killer in American roadways, but statistics are showing that electronic devices are gaining, so that’s an area that we have to put a lot of focus on.”
For Maxwell, the issue hits close to home.
“I have a 16-year-old son who became a driver this year,” she said. “Safe teen driving is very important to me.”
As part of the program, Sykes meets with students to plan strategies for getting people involved, making presentations, and distributing marketing items like T-shirts, buttons and wrist bands.
“Remember, we want to suck the kids in, but then be ready to communicate with them,” he told the group on Monday.
Meanwhile, Maxwell helps with marketing and community outreach, but said the program is very student-directed. For example, Maxwell said, students decided to create a video. High school teacher Sara Jennings is helping edit it. Students want to present the video at a talent show next week and then upload it to YouTube.
Even if DeKalb High School doesn’t win, Maxwell said, the program is still good for students because they’re gaining experience in public speaking, community service and meeting new people.
But in the end, it’s still about safe driving.
“It’s about actually pledging for safe driving, not just, ‘Oh, like we can win some money for the school, or we can win a concert,’ ” junior Robert Searls said. “We actually want more safe drivers around in our area, and everywhere.”
How to help
Log on to celebratemydrive.com and commit to safe driving daily from Oct. 18 to 26.