Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen and Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Michael Bzdyra were in West Hartford Tuesday morning collecting input from Hall students about teen safe driving.
By Ronni Newton
Students at West Hartford’s Hall High School have for years been active participants in the Teen Safe Driving Video Contest sponsored by the DMV and Travelers, and on Tuesday state officials visited the school as part of National Teen Safe Driver Week, which is Oct. 16-22, 2016.
Atty. Gen. George Jepsen, who lives in West Hartford and had children attend Hall, said that he cares very deeply about safe driving for teens. “The good news is through education and the change in culture of driving it’s very different than when I was a kid,” he said, noting the use of seat belts and presence of curfews as well as a change in attitudes about drinking and driving.
Jepsen said he really likes the theme of this year’s Teen Safe Driving Video Contest – “One Split Second” – because it says that the “onus is on you, as the driver … in literally a second that can be the difference between life and death.” The video contest is also so powerful because young people are much more apt to pay attention to a message if it is coming from a peer group, Jepsen said.
According to the DMV, since tougher teen driving laws were enacted in 2008, there has been an 82 percent reduction in fatalities for 16- and 17-year-old drivers, but motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among teens.
DMV Commissioner Michael Bzdyra said that teen safe driving – buckling up and obeying teen driving laws – really is within the power of the teens themselves. “You’re decision-makers every day, and whether you’re beginning to drive or are driving already you need to make those good decisions,” he told the group of approximately 50 Hall students.
“The best message really is one that comes from your peers,” Bzdyra said, encouraging the West Hartford teens to play an active role in helping themselves and their classmates remain safe.
The video contest remains relevant, Bzdyra said, because there are new teen drivers every day.
Several Hall students serve as advisors on the committee for this year’s contest, and Armani Nieves, Devin Hartzog, Sam Fiske, and Alex Walshaw, along with Mercy High School’s Maggie Silbo, helped lead group of students in 10-minute brainstorming sessions in response to a list of questions. The students’ ideas were presented to the entire group, as well as the officials who were on hand.
“We thought the most important thing is keep your cellphone away from you,” said Chris Monnes, speaking on behalf of his group which discussed how to avoid being distracted while driving. His group also recommended that getting a hashtag trending on Twitter about “how to keep your phone away from you while driving” would be an effective way to reach others through social media.
Sarah Berman said that it’s tough because other students ask for rides even though they know they shouldn’t. Higher fines for speeding and stricter texting laws were examples of laws her group thought would further safe teen driving.
Regarding promoting teen safe driving, Berman said, “We all agreed that the emotional ads are much more effective than the ads that just throw numbers at us that we’ve all heard in driver’s ed.”
Melanie Grados said her group discussed that teens need to tell others who pressure them to break the teen driving laws of the consequences – “that you’re responsible not just for your own life but for others.”
“If they really need to talk to you, you can just pull over into a parking lot,” said Ben Roland. His group said that teens appreciate that they can cite the laws as a reason not to drive others.
“Preventing distracted driving is really a culture issue rather than one that can be changed by regulations,” said Cody Richter on behalf of his group. However, the group thought that driver’s education should be mandatory for all.
Jose Huerta’s group spoke about how teens realize the impact of safe driving laws when something happens to them or one of their friends.
Bzdyra said the results of the brainstorming sessions were “good food for thought,” and he was impressed with many of the ideas the Hall students had.
Ernie Bertothy, of the DMV’s Office of Corporate and Public Relations, said that Hall students, particularly Nieves, have taken a lead role on the teen advisory board, and have also done very well each year in the video contest.
Scott Sampietro, who teaches Hall’s “Digital Media and Video Production” class, works with the students each year on their contest entries. “We do a lot of storyboarding, refining their stories to get rid of the extraneous stuff to get to the real message,” he said.
Sampietro said that six groups of students are already working on footage for this year’s contest as part of the class unit on commercials and PSAs. They’re essentially learning how to “sell” teen safe driving rather than selling chips or soda, and in this case the message becomes more than just a class assignment.
“It’s fun when kids can do something that gets put out there in the real world. There’s more buy-in,” said Sampietro.
Bertothy said that high school students from throughout the state, including those who are home schooled, can participate in the annual contest. Submissions for this year’s Teen Safe Driving Contest will be accepted through Dec. 15. Full details about the 2016-2017 DMV-Travelers Safe Driving Contest can be found here.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!