A design created by Dakota High School student Johnathon Putrus Jr. will be seen on billboards throughout Michigan this April.

A design created by Dakota High School student Johnathon Putrus Jr. will be seen on billboards throughout Michigan this April.

Photo provided by the Transportation Improvement Association

Dakota student wins billboard contest

By: Dean Vaglia | Macomb Chronicle | Published April 17, 2024


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Johnathon Putrus Jr. has designed a sign of the times.

As one of two finalists of a Transportation Improvement Association billboard contest, Putrus’ design is a straightforward statement against distracted driving. “PHONE DOWN,” reads the sign in yellow text on a black background. “LAW IS HANDS-FREE DRIVING.”

Originally hearing about the contest through social media, Putrus entered it using what he learned in his technical design class.

“I wanted to create a clean, simple design that anybody just driving by would be able to understand,” Putrus said.

Putrus’ design and a design by Farmington Hills Mercy High School student Brandy Cavanaugh were chosen from over 60 student-designed entries to promote the new hands-free driving law in Michigan.

“What I heard the judges say was that they liked that these were short and to the point,” TIA CIO Jim Santilli said. “Some of the submissions that we receive will have paragraphs on them, for example. We don’t want drivers staring at the billboard trying to read a paragraph while driving. That kind of defeats the purpose. We want something that’s very visible, short and to the point with the message (and) that won’t be distracting to drivers.”

The TIA has held the traffic safety billboard contest since 2014 using $40,000 in grant funds from State Farm.

“When I submitted the grant request, I decided it would be good to challenge students from across the state of Michigan to come up with distracted driving awareness messages that are just short and to the point to help educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving,” Santilli said. “The difference with this year’s campaign is obviously Michigan became a hands-free state last year, so this year we challenged students to educate the public about the hands-free law Michigan has for drivers.”

Student-made billboards have been a key part of the TIA’s messaging strategy, which includes speaking at schools, public service announcements and working with law enforcement and other organizations raising awareness about the dangers of distracted driving.

“We need motorists to understand that when operating a motor vehicle, they have a huge responsibility not only to protect their life, but the lives of innocent people traveling around them,” Santilli said.

Putrus’ billboard was unveiled at Dakota High School on March 26 alongside law enforcement and government officials. The billboards will be seen throughout Michigan this April with the TIA estimating 10 million people seeing the messages.