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Clintondale putting an emphasis on distraction-free driving

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published October 28, 2015

Photo by Burlingham/Shutterstock

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — In a world of smartphones and constantly improving technology, sometimes it can be hard to focus on the things that matter most.

That’s why schools such as Clintondale High School have gotten involved in a metro Detroit initiative to take a stand against distracted driving.

The pilot project is a partnership between the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office and the Sam Bernstein Law Firm, and is meant to raise awareness about the perils of distracted driving while aiming to prevent injuries and fatalities.

“As drivers, our attention should be on the task of driving at all times, not on passengers, mobile phones or anything else,” said Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said in a statement. “We are encouraging young people to pledge that they will avoid all of the distractions and focus on driving.”

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, nearly six out of every 10 traffic crashes are the result of driving distractions. Traffic accidents are the leading cause of teen deaths.

The two most common distractions are interacting with passengers and using a cellphone. Having one teen passenger in a vehicle doubles the risk that a teen driver will get into a fatal crash, while three or more quadruples the risk.

Surveys show that the majority of teens don’t view talking on a phone as being especially dangerous.

“We have learned first-hand about the dangers of distracted driving, with far too many cases coming through our office of carelessness leading to injury,” said Mark Bernstein, president and managing partner of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm, said in a statement. “This program is designed to break habits before they start and motivate young drivers to stay safe by learning early how to focus only on the road.”

In Michigan, Kelsey’s Law — which is named after 17-year-old Kelsey Raffaele, of Sault Ste. Marie, who died in a mobile phone-related automobile crash in 2010 — bans teens with a Level 1 or 2 graduated driver’s license from using a phone while driving. The state also outlaws texting while driving for drivers of all ages.

A “Distraction-Free Detroit” campaign ran throughout September and October, in which students at high schools in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties took a pledge against distracted driving. Parents, school faculty, staff and supporters took quizzes, and those who completed a pledge or quiz earned a point for their high school.

Schools are divided into the four enrollment-based classifications used by the Michigan High School Athletic Association — A, B, C and D — for competitive purposes. At the end of the contest period, the school in each classification with the highest percentage of participation would be awarded $2,500 for student activities.

The winning schools were scheduled to be announced during National Teen Driver Safety Week in late October, after press time. No taxpayer funds were used in the contest.

About 35 high schools participated in 2014, and one of them was Clintondale.

Clintondale school board President Jason Davidson said a staff member first brought the safe driving initiative to the school’s administrators last year. Grants were later attained within the state, providing students with a supportive and safe environment that help them make the right choices on the road.

“It’s worthwhile and probably something all schools should participate in year-round,” Davidson said. “In my mind, it’s a no-brainer.”

In the program’s second year, Clintondale students can sign up and take surveys, pledge online that they won’t text and drive, and complete other activities that promote safe driving habits.

Davidson said the school has previously discussed the need to promote safer driving, but never before to this level. Posters and signs have hung in the building, but with many schools no longer offering driver’s education programs, these initiatives open up new avenues.

He expects the initiative to continue well past the duration of this specific campaign.

“I think, in general, it’s a problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s an age limit on those who participate in the activities. I certainly believe it’s probably the younger generation that is doing it more, just through observation.”

Thecampaign included public service announcements and social media to remind teens and other drivers to focus on safe driving. Resources such as videos, driving tips and apps to help fight distracted driving are available at