Dakota High School senior Anna Hunyor won a statewide billboard competition with the message “Don’t Text and Die.”

Dakota High School senior Anna Hunyor won a statewide billboard competition with the message “Don’t Text and Die.”

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Dakota student wins statewide billboard competition

Operation Ghost Rider set for April

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published March 26, 2019


MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Four words can make all the difference.

“Don’t Text and Die” is the message that Michiganders began seeing on billboards March 25 and will view throughout National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.

The billboard design was made by Anna Hunyor, a 17-year-old senior at Dakota High School.

Representatives from the Transportation Improvement Association, or TIA, State Farm, Macomb County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan State Police, or MSP, and Dakota High School attended a March 15 press conference at Dakota.

It was held to unveil Hunyor’s distracted driving awareness billboard design.

Through a $30,600 grant provided by State Farm, TIA recently challenged Michigan high school students to design a distracted driving awareness billboard.

Nearly 50 innovative designs were judged by a selection committee consisting of law enforcement and transportation leaders.

Hunyor’s design, which has the word “drive” in “Don’t Text and Drive” crossed out and replaced with “die,” was chosen by the committee. It was selected because the danger of distracted driving is communicated in a short, creative message.

The billboard also features a photo of someone texting while driving.

“I feel like the word ‘die’ is very straightforward,” Hunyor said. “People say ‘passed away’ or ‘no longer with us,’ and beat around the bush. I thought it made a big impact.”   

Jim Santilli, CEO of TIA, said that distracted driving is a phenomenon seen daily.

“We truly appreciate Anna Hunyor, a great Dakota High School student, helping us to increase distracted driving awareness throughout the state of Michigan,” he said.

MSP First Lt. Michael Shaw said he has a saying of “get your head out of your app.

“I like this one too,” he added. “We know distracted driving is very prevalent across the state and especially in the metro Detroit area. The biggest thing is it can be totally prevented. We’re asking people to put their phone down and not pay attention to anything but the road.”

Ron Roberts, the superintendent of Chippewa Valley Schools, said distracted driving is a serious concern that can have devastating consequences.

“When we learned that one of our Dakota High School students was selected for such an important award, we were really proud,” he said. “By having her art design featured on billboards throughout the state, Anna Hunyor is using her creative talent to provide education and awareness that can save a life.”

Preliminary 2018 data from TIA states that 75 people were killed and 7,208 were injured in 18,922 motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in the state of Michigan.

In addition to distracted driving education, TIA is working with metro Detroit law enforcement agencies to schedule enforcement initiatives to reduce distracted driving on Michigan roadways.

Multiple agencies are set to begin conducting Operation Ghost Rider in April. The goal is to reduce distracted driving deaths and injuries.

Operation Ghost Rider uses unmarked spotter vehicles, which contain a law enforcement passenger.  When the spotters observe a distracted driver, they radio a fully marked law enforcement unit to initiate a traffic stop.

The operation was revealed in 2017 and TIA research has found that last year, in a six-hour period, law enforcement officers conducted more than 530 traffic stops resulting in 440 citations and nine arrests.

“Congratulations to Anna Hunyor for winning a competition that is designed to save lives and prevent injuries,” Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham said. “The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office remains dedicated to ensuring everyone has a safe travel experience by routinely participating in education and enforcement efforts.”

Shaw tells the public that even though the MSP uses billboards and folks ask if they’re a distraction, the billboards are for passengers, not drivers.