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Adeline Skovronek

Second Place: Adeline Skovronek

Coylestown, PA

I graduated from Solebury School in New Hope, PA in 2016 and am enrolled as a freshman for the 2017-18 school year at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. During my year off I have held two paid internships, the first as an assistant teacher and the second as the assistant researcher at the archives of Drexel’s Medical College in Philadelphia. I am planning on majoring in Linguistics and Foreign languages and then teaching English as a foreign language in Germany after I receive my degree.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving has become a serious problem in the United Sates, especially since handheld devices became essentially ubiquitous. Many positive initiatives have been aimed at decreasing distracted driving, with the majority centered on education. Parents of teens killed in auto accidents caused by distracted drivers start non-profits; educators and professionals ban together to present lectures at high schools, colleges, and business; and larger organizations as well as companies are constantly beginning campaigns to fight distracted driving. Eating, applying makeup, using a cell phone, or simply adjusting the radio in your car can take your attention off the road. With the onset of technology in everyday life, society has become noticeably more distracted, and it is no surprise that this trait has bled into our behavior while behind the wheel.

Over the past few years many non-profits have sprung up, started by the close friends and family of teenagers killed in car accidents caused by distracted driving – either on the part of the deceased or the driver of the other car. The Nikki Kellenyi Foundation – People Against Distracted Driving (PADD), is one such organization. Created in memory of Nikki, a high school senior killed by a distracted driver, the organization focuses on “partnering with local, sate and federal governments to promote the awareness and education of the consequences of distracted driving” (“Our Mission”). Such organizations frequently set up booths at fairs and markets as part of their outreach to local communities. These activities prove very effective, as they bring the dangers of distracted driving into the eyes of the community and help to raise awareness and further education on the issue. They move a step beyond the “don’t text and drive” signs by interacting directly with drivers.

End Distractive Driving is another organization started by the parent of a young woman killed by a distracted driver. It focuses on “advocacy, education, and actions” (“About EndDD”) and has a strong presence in education. The organization has a large group of volunteers, including safety experts, lawyers, doctors, and driver’s education instructors who give presentations across the country. Their audiences include high school and college students, hospitals, community groups and even businesses. EndDD’s goal is to educate drivers of all ages about the dangers of distractive driving and the important habits you can develop to keep your attention on the road. Instead of simply providing ultimatums, this organization provides its audiences with “steps that drivers can use” (“School Presentation”), practical techniques to keep you attentive and safe while behind the wheel.

In April of 2016 an article was released discussing the new initiatives Harvard’s Center for Health Communication is taking regarding distracted driving. The article, entitled “Putting the Brakes on Distracted Driving,” states that the new message focuses on behavioral changes drivers can make. Jay Winsten stated that most campaigns in the past centered on the “don’t” message and were successful in raising awareness but not in causing any major behavioral changes. Harvard’s strategy, however, is to promote defensive and “attentive driving,” while also “scanning for surprises” and maintaining a heightened level of “situational awareness” (Roeder). This new approach highlights the effectiveness of educating drivers and providing them with solutions, a much more beneficial track than just saying “don’t.”

Taking your eyes off the road for just a second – to grab a drink, check your phone, change the radio station – can result in car accidents, injuries or deaths, and in some states license suspensions as well. Not only is distracted driving dangerous, it is also irresponsible, for the distracted driver is unnecessarily endangering the lives of other drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. It is encouraging to see that not only are laws becoming stricter, but the number of organizations working to educate and promote safe driving habits is also growing.