Design from local student wins statewide safe driving awareness competition. 

April 9, 2021

West Shore School News is a presentation of West Shore Educational Service District, in partnership with Mason County Press and Oceana County Press.

Design from local student wins statewide safe driving awareness competition. 

TROY — Design work by Mason County Eastern 11th grade student Leah Howell, was recently selected as the winning entry in a state-wide distracted driver awareness campaign. 

Leah Howell created the design in the West Shore Educational Service District’s Career & Technical Education program. It is titled Choose Living, Not Looking.” 

Leah Howell

The campaign was a joint effort of the Transportation Improvement Association (TIA), State Farm Insurance, Michigan State Police, county and local law enforcement, and high school students, observing National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.

Through a $20,000 grant provided by State Farm, TIA challenged Michigan high school students to design a distracted driving awareness billboard.

Nearly 50 innovative designs were judged by a selection committee consisting of Chief Elvin Barren, Southfield Police Department; Sheriff Michael Bouchard, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office; Lt. Col. Kyle Bowman, deputy director of the Michigan State Police; Kriste Etue, director of external affairs at TIA; Commander Kyra Joy Hope, Detroit Police Department; Chief Eric Payne, Grand Rapids Police Department; Sgt. Kenneth Rumps, Macomb County Sheriff’s Office; Sheriff Raphael Washington, Wayne County Sheriff’s Office; and, Monica Yesh, chief operating officer at TIA.

According to a press release from TIA, Howell’s design was selected because the danger of distracted driving is communicated in a short, creative message.

“Keeping our eyes on the road and hands on the wheel while driving can save lives and prevent injuries,” said Jim Santilli, CEO of TIA. “We truly appreciate Leah Howell helping us to increase distracted driving awareness throughout Michigan. Furthermore, we are thankful State Farm generously supports this initiative each year. Nationally, 94% of crashes are caused by human choice and error.”

Howell’s design will be seen throughout the state of Michigan during National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Nearly 7 million impressions will be made.

“Limiting distractions behind the wheel is a simple way to make Michigan’s roads safer for all of us,” said Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police. “We appreciate the TIA and our student honoree, Leah Howell, raising awareness of the dangers of distracted driving.”

Howell said she was excited to receive a school project that will have a positive impact throughout Michigan.

“When I first heard creating a billboard was an assignment for our class, I was excited to make something meaningful,” said Howell. “As a young driver, I understand texting and driving is very dangerous. One second you’re staring down at a text, the next you’re off the road or in the other lane.”

Howell also wants drivers to know that distracted driving puts everyone at risk.

“If you get in a vehicle, you should make driving your priority, not looking down at your phone,” said Howell. “The main reason I chose the saying ‘choose living, not looking’ is because anyone who makes the choice to drive distracted has the potential of injuring themselves or others around them. I hope my billboard inspires others to drive safely.”

According to the Michigan State Police, preliminary numbers for 2020 indicate 51 people were killed and 5,559 were injured in 14,326 motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver in the state. During 2019, 70 people were killed and 6,842 were injured in 18,096 crashes involving a distracted driver.

In addition to distracted driving education, TIA is working with law enforcement agencies to schedule enforcement initiatives to reduce distracted driving on Michigan’s roadways. A distracted driving awareness information card is being developed for law enforcement officers to distribute during traffic stops. The goal is to reduce distracted driving deaths and injuries by encouraging drivers to make good choices.

“Congratulations to Leah Howell for creating a distracted driving awareness message to save lives and prevent injuries on our roads,” said Wayne County Sheriff Raphael Washington. “According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, drivers who use a hand-held device are 4 times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury. Texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash. The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office remains dedicated to ensuring everyone has a safe travel experience by routinely participating in education and enforcement efforts.”

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