Scholarships offered for distracted driving campaigns

By: Jonathan Shead | Farmington Press | Published August 8, 2019

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Bonnie Raffaele’s daughter Kelsey passed away from a phone-related car accident in 2010 at age 17. Raffaele worked with the Michigan Legislature to enact Kelsey’s Law in 2013, prohibiting level one and two drivers from using handheld devices while driving. 

Michigan Auto Law, a Farmington Hills-based auto law firm, is seeking submissions for its fifth annual Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Scholarship. 

The scholarships is presented in conjunction with Kelsey’s Law. For the past five years, MAL has provided these scholarship opportunities as a way to help raise awareness about distracted driving and decrease the number of distracted driving accidents that occur, said Brandon Hewitt, the chief of operations and an attorney with the firm for the past 14 years. 

According to the Michigan State Police crash database, in 2014, 40,865 car crashes involved drivers ages 15-19, resulting in 69 fatalities and 479 serious injuries. Texting and driving makes a driver  23 times more likely to crash. 

The scholarships are open to any high school student with a valid Michigan driver’s license, as well as high school graduates from the Class of 2019. Teens under the age of 18 by Oct. 11 will be required to have a parent or guardian sign a consent form if their work is chosen as a finalist. 

Interested applicants can submit public service announcements in the form of 30-second Youtube videos, PNG graphics or 110-character tweets. The deadline for submissions is Aug. 31. 

Overall, $5,000 will be given out through four different scholarships: $2,000 for best overall submission, $1,500 for best video submission, $1,000 for best graphic submission and $500 for best Twitter submission. 

“We want (teens) to speak to each other. A big reason we have these scholarships is not necessarily because teenagers are the most dangerous drivers; we just think they are the most empowered, and they are in the best position to talk to each other,” Hewitt said. “We want the focus to be on how can you best communicate the dangers of distracted driving to each other, but also to the public at large.” 

Sgt. Doug Muller of Farmington Hills Police Department traffic division said he’s seen distracted driving increase over the years as more handheld devices go on the market, and as more people have them. 

“You see stories all the time where people are texting one minute and the next 5-10 seconds, they’re in a car accident,” he said.

To avoid this, Muller advises people to use the safety features on their phones, like the “do not disturb” setting, or to simply turn the phone off until after arriving safely at a destination. 

“I think the ultimate answer is just to not use your digital devices while you’re in the car. I know it’s easier said than done, but that really is the main point,” he said. 

Texting and driving isn’t the only distraction people can face while behind the wheel, Hewitt explained. 

“Emotional driving is a big one, especially for teens,” he said. 

Whether a driver is upset, excited or angry; whether they just got in a fight with someone or are overly excited to get to where they’re going, Hewitt said a person’s emotions can have a huge impact on the way they drive and the attention they pay to the road and their surroundings. 

Passengers can watch for signs of emotional driving while out with friends on the road. If they notice the driver has rushed speech patterns, is jumping from topic to topic, or is fixated on one specific topic, those may be signs of emotionally distracted driving, Hewitt said. While this isn’t always an easy conversation to bring up, he said the best way to do so is to lead with your own actions. 

“A lot of people follow by observation and will mimic the habits or behavior patterns they see in other people,” he said. “When you have the opportunity, the best thing you can do as a driver is to demonstrate how to be safe, so when you’re the passenger the next time you’re with that person, you’re going to feel more comfortable asking them to do the same thing.”

Muller agreed, taking it a step further to say that parents have to showcase those safe driving habits and set rules at a young age if they really want to see things change with the next generation of drivers. 

“Whether they’re 6, 7, 8 or 15, they’re watching their parents. They see what they do. That’s how they learn, so the parents need to lead by example … and set those rules in the beginning,” he said. “It’s probably a little bit easier to follow them than break a habit.” 

For more information on the Kelsey’s Law Distracted Driving Scholarship, visit www.michiganautolaw.com/scholarships/kelseys-law. 

Call Staff Writer Jonathan Shead at (586) 948-1093.

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