Teens take on the dangers of distracted driving – The Virginian-Pilot

Young people in Virginia face the highest number of deaths and injuries in distracted driving crashes. Six teenagers from Virginia Beach and the Western Branch of Chesapeake have found ways to stop their classmates from checking their cell phones while driving.

Norfolk-based law firm Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers announced the winners of its Focused Driver Scholarship Program in August, awarding $10,000 in scholarships to students who suggested innovative ways to fight against the scourge of distracted driving.

Six students who submitted essays to the Focused Driver Scholarship Program won awards for their education, five Hampton Roads winners and one national winner.

Students were asked to tackle one of the most pressing dangers to teens on America’s roads today; Distracted driving. A distracted driver kills nine people every day in the United States, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention (CDC).

Distracted driving caused 117 deaths in Virginia in 2021, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Although the figure was down 3% from 2020, the number of people injured due to distracted driving increased by 9% to 11,297. Although teenage drivers regularly lose their lives by texting or speaking to passengers, the highest rate of death and injury from distractions is in the 21-25 age group.

Legacy Watkins of Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach was one of the local winners of a $2,000 scholarship. Watkins will attend James Madison University as an architectural design major and hopes to one day run his own architectural practice.

Watkins advocated keeping smartphones silent while driving. “Most devices come with the ability to turn off notifications. Use this feature and reserve phone use for emergencies only,” she wrote in her essay.

“Although passengers can be a distraction in themselves, enlist their help in doing what you can’t. Also, don’t underestimate the power of stopping. Find a safe place along the road and complete your task before continuing on your way,” she wrote.

Lily Schutte, who attended Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, suggested that cars be equipped with safes for mobile devices. She got a $2,000 scholarship.

“I offer a special type of lock box that allows the driver to access their phone in an absolute emergency, but remains locked so that texting, calling and other activities cannot be carried out,” said Schutte writes.

“The case will be transparent, connected to the air vent so that the phone can be used for navigation, and only operated by voice commands in the event of an emergency. With this type of case, a driver can use his phone for GPS, but not access its applications.

Schutte will be attending Virginia Tech as a freshman this fall and wants to become a college history teacher.

Matthew Fox of Princess Anne High School won $2,000 for an essay that described how he was involved in a car crash and later developed a passion for researching distracted driving. “The passion was born after being involved in a car accident when I was young; fortunately, no physical harm was done to my mother and myself,” he wrote.

Fox conducted research on the effect of sound stimulation on driving habits as a student.

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“During a school research assignment, I chose to investigate the impact of auditory stimuli on an individual’s reaction time,” he writes, “The basis of the investigation was to understand whether an individual can be more or less focused on a specific task when listening to auditory stimuli.

“My study would mimic driving in a car and test whether listening to music like pop would make a driver more focused on the road and faster when reacting to road hazards,” Fox wrote.

He referenced a study by author William Consiglio on the influences of cellular conversations on reaction times. While reaction times were reduced while drivers were in conversation, they were less affected by music. However, Fox research suggests reaction times for drivers listening to heavy rock music are slightly longer than those listening to softer pop or an NPR podcast.

Fox will leave behind the Virginia Beach waterfront and his part-time job at Jungle Golf in Virginia Beach to study at Lynchburg University in the fall.

Maggie Bowen and Michael Bowen of Western Branch High School in Chesapeake won scholarships of $1,000 each. Michael Bowen will attend Shenandoah University in the fall and Maggie Bowen will attend Christopher Newport University in Newport News.

The national winner was Alex Chau, a civil engineering student at San Diego State University in California. Chau won a $2,000 scholarship for his civil engineering degree. “I’m always interested in leading an active life outside of school, like biking and hiking. I also enjoy volunteering in my local community and exploring new places around San Diego,” he wrote.

Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers established its Distracted Driving Awareness Fellowship (now the Focused Driving Scholarship Program) in 2017.

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