HARROD — Students at Allen East High School are urging their peers to wear their seatbelts, put down their phones and drive safely, as car crashes remain a leading and preventable cause of death among teenagers.
The 46 students who make up the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) chapter have spent the past week asking their classmates to share their “seatbelt selfies” and take part in the club’s distracted-driving simulator, which demonstrates how easily crashes can occur when a driver is not paying attention.
For students who were spotted wearing their seatbelt in the parking lot, there were prizes. So too for students who could recite safe driving tips — put makeup on before you leave, not in the car; eat dinner after you get home, not on the road —which were taped to lockers throughout the high school.
The SADD club will soon start sharing testimonials collected from fellow students who were harmed by distracted driving, all part of a student-led effort to persuade their peers to be more proactive and adopt safe driving habits.
“Maybe put your phone in the center console,” said Adrianna Rutherford, a sophomore who joined SADD to help other students experiencing anxiety or depression.
Distracted driving is particularly dangerous for inexperienced drivers, who are already prone to risky decisions and underestimate their chances of crashing. A 2019 youth risk behavior survey found that nearly 40% of teenage drivers admitted to texting while driving in the last 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention.
The club is giving away prizes for everything, trying to incentivize participation rather than rely on scare tactics that often go ignored, said Kelly Prichard, an intervention specialist and SADD advisor for Allen East High School.
But the student-led campaign is also focused on more than texting and driving or drunk driving.
Trinity Patterson, a sophomore SADD member, said she gets anxious when passengers yell while she’s driving, offering one example of the ways in which teens can distract one another.
“They think it’s texting or eating or listening to music,” said Chloe Zellman, a senior who helped coordinate SADD’s campaign. “Not many people think about emotions.”
And everybody already knows that drinking and driving is stupid, Prichard said.
But texting and driving is still a relatively new phenomenon and “we’re seeing a huge increase in the crashes,” she said. “You need to plead with kids to put the phone down and stay focused to try to decrease those numbers.”