The numbers are frightening. Each year more than 400,000 people are injured, more than 3,000 die (the majority being young people), and all in accidents caused by a distracted driver. While governmental and nonprofit organizations conduct a variety of programs to combat this problem, a new direction in preventing distracted driving incidents has now been undertaken by young people.
Groups at high schools and colleges across the country have been holding campaigns to encourage their fellow students to sign pledges to avoid distracted driving and to help educate their fellow students about this issue. Recent student-led programs took place this past spring at a number of schools, including the University of Alabama, Foley High School and Elberta High School.
These campus-wide safe driving campaigns began following the death of Hunter Watson, a Syracuse University student who died as a passenger in a distracted driving accident. His Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers decided to honor Hunter's memory by working to reduce the number of accidents, injuries and deaths linked to a driver using his or her cell phone while behind the wheel. The fraternities and other groups hold safe driving events where students sign pledges to not use cell phones or take part in other activities that take attention away from the road while driving.
Following Hunter’s death, his family and friends formed the Hunter Brooks Watson Memorial Fund, a nonprofit organization which provides grants to young innovators, and now helps students at high schools and colleges offer “Hunter’s Pledge,” a Safe Driving Campaign for their school campuses.
The Fund provides Campaign Kits which include pledge cards, wrist bands, safe driving handouts and advertising posters, all geared to helping the sponsoring students encourage their classmates to sign “Hunter’s Pledge” cards. Studies have shown that signing a pledge is 47% more effective at changing behavior than any other incentive.
In less than a year this campaign has expanded from one campus at Syracuse University to 18 other schools nationwide that have launched “Hunter’s Pledge" campaigns. Participating schools now include not only Alabama schools, but also the University of Georgia, University of Texas, University of Minnesota, University of California Berkeley, several high schools, and many other college campuses.
The Hunter Watson Fund is now encouraging and looking to support additional colleges and high schools to participate in this highly effective program. More information is available on the Fund's website at www.hunterwatson.org/events.