Hunter Watson, a senior at University High School in Spokane, was among just four students in the United States selected to give presentations at the Lifesavers international traffic safety conference in Chicago on March 15.
Kennedy Gwin, a junior at Hoquiam High School, will also make the trip from Washington state. The other two are James Fairfield and Cayley Wilson from Melvin-Sibley High School in Gibson City, Ill.
“The Lifesavers Conference is the premier traffic safety conference in the United States dedicated to reducing roadway deaths and injuries. The conference is huge, drawing close to 2000 participants, so to be selected to present on their school projects is a very big deal. They deserve to be proud,” said Washington Gov.r Jay Inslee.
Kennedy and Hunter will be accompanied by their advisors, Hoquiam cheer team coach Charlotte Helland and University High School teacher and ASB advisor Wally Watson, along with staff from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. The teens’ presentations will be about the extensive traffic safety educational efforts they have helped lead at their respective high schools.
“I’m honored to have been chosen to speak on an issue I am so passionate about. I have an uncle who is a quadriplegic, and I have lost two classmates due to automobile collisions. If my efforts can prevent just one tragedy, then this will be the most beneficial thing I have ever done. I feel blessed to have this opportunity,” Watson said.
The conference takes place March 15 – 17 in Chicago. The keynote speaker will be the Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, Anthony Foxx.
The Traffic Safety Commission was asked to recruit two speakers for a Lifesavers conference panel on promising practices in peer led high school traffic safety projects after a program managed by the Commission and sponsored by State Farm Insurance was highlighted in a national research report on effective high school based projects.
The Commission’s Program, called the State Farm $500 Grant Program, gives schools a chance to earn money by promoting student awareness about the dangerousness of distracted and impaired driving. Since the program began three years ago, more than 300 high school programs have been conducted.
“We know that high school students are at a developmental stage where they are defining who they are and looking to their fellow students for clues and ideas. For this reason the research shows that peer led educational efforts are more effective and we feel strongly that this program is working to raise awareness and change behaviors among teens,” said Darrin Grondel, Traffic Safety Commission director.
In Washington between 2008 and 2013 there were 100 fatal crashes involving a driver who was either age 16 or 17, and 111 teens of that age group died.
To ensure fairness in the selection of the teens who will present at the Chicago conference, the Commission sponsored a statewide competition where students were invited to send a videotaped presentation of their speech about their high school traffic safety projects. Only those schools that were extensively active in promoting traffic safety were asked to participate in the video competition. “We told them they already won round one just by being notified of the video competition,” said Jonna VanDyk, commission program manager.
Kennedy and Hunter won the video competition.
Students have developed and distributed educational brochures, built commitment posters and recruited signatures of their fellow teens, held community meetings, sponsored outreach activities at sporting events -- the list of educational activities the schools have conducted is extensive for the prize of a $500 no-strings-attached grant.
“The big prize is a reduction in the number of teens hurt and killed in vehicle crashes which right now are the number one cause of death for teens. At the end of the day, we’re all after that big prize,” Grondel said.