Second Place 2021: Makenzie Friend

Florence, AL

Senior at Mae Jemison High School. She intends to pursue a career as an Obstetrician Gynecologist to help reduce the death rate for African-American women during pregnancy. Makenzie will continue her education at Mercer University this fall.

Distracted Driving Essay

“It was a Friday afternoon. I decided to treat myself for doing well on a college exam that I had studied for a month. I ordered a Venti caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks with extra whipped cream and caramel. I even stopped by Bojangles to get a Cajun chicken biscuit. As I pulled out of the drive through and started putting grape jelly on my biscuit, a stray dog wandered across the street right in front of my car causing me to swerve and drop the jelly covered biscuit in my lap. Despite my jelly stained pants, I was so thankful that no one was in the lane beside me because I didn’t have enough time to slow down. It was at this very moment that I realized the power that my steering wheel had.

You see, everyone told me that you should never text and drive. Don’t even look down at your phone for a second because you’re risking your life. I was even given all of the statistics. I remember sitting down at the dinner table on several occasions when my mom would tell me, “Did you know that the CDC has a study where 8 people are killed per day in a car crash involving a distracted driver?” She would continue, “Did you know that states that, “Once a driver has been distracted, it takes only 3 seconds for a car crash to occur?” And lastly she would tell me, “If I catch you on the phone or doing anything that would risk your life, I’m taking your car and no one is going to know you exist because you are going to be grounded until your car starts flying.” Because I knew the consequences of texting and driving, I have never attempted to text anyone while driving. However, I wasn’t aware of the distractions that other objects or people could pose – not until my encounter with that stray dog. This prompted me to truly evaluate “How can I educate others about the dangers of being a distracted driver?” – Not only texting and driving, but overall being a distracted driver.

In order to accurately answer this question, I had to look at the subject from two different points of view. When most adults look at automobiles, they see a vehicle or machine that can transport them from point A to Point B. For most teens a car is much more than a vehicle. For teens a car represents freedom and independence. A car breaks many of the barriers that limit teens and causes them to depend on others. As a teen driver, it seems like you are in control, not only in charge of the speed, but the destination. Many times teens lose sight of reality and are often lost in the fantasy of this new found freedom – the ability to drive their friends, go anywhere they want, feel invincible outside of their parents’ purview. After looking at how each age group views a car, I was able to formulate three ways we can educate others about the dangers of being a distracted driver. While my points are very effective, changes can’t be made from just one voice. All teens must leave those thoughts of invincibility behind when operating a car and truly understand that not just their lives are at stake. The lives of all passengers in that vehicle and other drivers on the road depend upon their undivided attention to driving.

The first thing we can do to address this is to implement mandatory driver awareness seminars that would briefly discuss what happens when you speed, drink and drive, or become distracted. In this seminar, state officials would provide detailed pictures of what could happen when such events occur. By mandating each individual to attend this seminar between obtaining a learners permit, and an actual drivers license we would ensure that a large majority of the population is aware of the dangers of distracted driving.

The second thing we can do to prevent distracted driving is use technology as an asset to manipulate habits and negative behaviors. Most people wear seatbelts simply because their car makes an alarming and annoying noise when they aren’t wearing a seatbelt. It would be startling to hear the same nose come from a phone. Because of this danger, I would advocate for a less disturbing option – instead of a noise, when the phone detects that a car has surpassed 15 miles per hour it would automatically go into a “safety mode”, specifically for driving (unless connected to a hands free device voice controlled system). Safety mode would automatically prompt a screen with a car and an option at the bottom to contact your favorite or emergency contacts. The purpose of an automatic feature like this is to refrain from giving people the option to turn this mode off. Unless there is a passenger in the car, turning off “safety modes” defeats
the purpose of their existence. Though this may be annoying to some people, this feature alone could and will drastically save the lives of thousands. And of course, because of the advanced capabilities of today’s technology, this feature would allow for things such as navigation systems, an automatic, custom text response for missed calls and text, the ability to block notifications, and for teens, the option to contact parents on command.

Lastly, we can leverage social media and various platforms of influence. As a “Millenial,” we are often teased because of our overindulgence and addiction to our phones. While this addiction to technology may not be good in some cases, if used correctly, it will certainly help make others aware of the consequences of distracted driving. People are often moved to cultivate change when they experience or witness a traumatic event. If we strategically use social media platforms, we can promote safe driving by emphasizing the dangers of distracted driving. We can make awareness not only through social media but also people of influence. Children and teens are very observant and quickly pick up on hypocritical behaviors of their elders. No matter if you are a parent, teacher, or state official, teens recognize when others are on their phone, doing their makeup or even eating while driving. I even remember asking my mom why cops were allowed to look at their computer screen while driving. Because we see others doing things, with no negative outcome, we think it is okay to duplicate the actions of others. By providing more examples and positive role models for children and teens, we would be targeting the problem at its root and prevent bad habits from forming that put lives at risk. Thus we would effectively and efficiently reach our goal of educating others about the dangers of distracted drivers and mitigate the risk of people becoming distracted drivers.”