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Kanoski Bresney Scholarship Winners Learn More About Our Scholarship Recipients

Through our Stand Up to Distracted Driving Scholarship, Kanoski Bresney aims to raise awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and support students who are passionate about doing the same. Each year, we ask our applicants to write an essay about their experiences with distracted driving and their ideas for awareness and prevention among young drivers. Based on their thoughtful, creative responses, the following students have been selected to receive $2,000 toward their pursuit of higher education.

Sania Zehra Khaja

Sania Zehra Khaja

University of Illinois Chicago

Sania's Essay

“Ughhhh. I hate this song”. You casually reach over to the dashboard, looking for a different radio station. At that time, you lost focus of where you were going and all you are thinking about is the music. One hand is off the wheel, while the other hand is occupied with changing the channels. Your eyes glance down at the buttons and screen. At that moment someone in front of you suddenly braked, but you were still looking down at the station. When you look up, you see the blaring red brake lights and frantically grab the steering wheel with both hands and jam the brakes. Your mind had been so occupied with the music that it took you longer than usual to react. You did not have your other hand to be able to quickly maneuver the car or enough time to brake and not hit the car in front of you. You were too late. You rammed right into the other car with a big “BANG”.

This is one example of distracted driving out of many. Changing music, eating, texting, calling, drinking, deep thinking and so much more are all distracted driving. The scenario above is one possible scenario out of millions that could occur. Not only would you have been injured, but so would the person in front. There are many possible consequences of you not paying attention while driving. The worst case scenario is usually death. Sometimes there are severe injuries that last life long.

I have seen distracted driving many times. While I never had to experience or witness anything bad happening due to the distraction, I have seen instances where it was a close call and the consequences could have been severe. For example, I have seen people try to brake at the last moment due to not paying attention. I have seen people miss when someone gave their indicator to turn. Sometimes people would not move when the signal turned green due to them being too into looking at their phones instead of their surroundings. Sometimes the distracted driver starts going out of their lane. The worst I faced was the sudden tightening of my seatbelt or having to wait a little for the person to start driving. I know the consequences of distracted driving can be far worse though.

The first step of preventing distracted driving is to raise awareness on the issue. Schools and driving institutes need to provide information on distracted driving to young drivers. They can do this through social media, but also in person. They can do this in many ways. The first way is through statistics. These statistics should be relayed cleverly in a way that it feels less like numbers. They need to present these statistics in a way that will create an emotional connection. Sometimes this can be achieved by showing a physical representation of the number such as through dots.

Graphics can be used to help illustrate the point. Think about times you have heard statistics. “A million people died in the past year due to people distracted driving”. That sounds terrible. You know it is bad, but it still is a number in your head. You would have to further think about how devastated the survivors are from the deaths of their family. What if instead you saw an interview that relayed a story of a survivor of a distracted driving related car crash? What if you saw all the consequences instead of just hearing it? People tend to understand emotion. If we can feel emotionally connected, we can better understand a situation. Due to this, the statistics need to be relayed in a more personal way with graphics.

Another way to increase awareness in an effective way is through personal accounts, interviews and videos. These all will feel more personal and can better create an emotional connection that will make students remember the dangers of distracted driving. If a person can do a presentation in person and students can ask questions to that person, that’s even better since this would create more of a connection. All this can also be done through different social media platforms and even online.

Students can have a mini project based on distracted driving. This could be a mini research project or a project based on real life accounts of the consequences of distracted driving. Another project schools or driving institutes could do is to make the young drivers identify one common distracted driving habit that they see or do and then inform those around them about ways to avoid the distraction. This allows the young drivers to be able to solve problems and can help to prevent them from doing the distracted driving practice they had to talk about. Young people need to understand the consequences their actions can have. They need to understand that just because nothing bad has happened does not mean that they will not be affected by distracted driving. They need to think if they or their loved ones would want to be a victim of the consequences of distracted driving. Once they realize how bad distracted driving is, they will need to be able to apply their knowledge.

Once students know the dangers of distracted driving, they need an action plan. They need to know ways to prevent themselves from getting distracted while driving. These tactics need to be relayed multiple times and people need to consciously try to apply these tactics. Phones usually cause the most distraction. One way to combat that distraction is to put your phone on silent so you do not get distracted by a sound notification. You also can adjust your settings to turn off notifications that will make your screen light up. You can also keep your phone in a bag or turned away so you do not want to look at the screen. Sometimes cars have navigation so a person should try to use that instead of their phone. If they need to use navigation, they should try to preview the directions and have an idea of where they are going in order to not be as distracted while driving.

Another common distraction is eating and drinking while driving. The easiest way to combat this is to eat before or after driving. People need to make sure they manage their time so that they will have enough time to eat. They also can have someone else drive while they eat. Another distraction is music. People can decide to not listen to music at all. They can try to stick to one radio station in order for them to not be distracted about what song or station to change to.

Thinking deep thoughts or even talking to someone else can be a distraction. Young drivers need to be able to tell what distracts them. Someone can sit in the car and point out what seems to be distracting the driver. The young driver can try to consciously pay attention to what distracts them. Once they know what distracts them, they then can try different ways to not be distracted while driving. Some of the suggestions above can be used to help avoid certain distractions and these suggestions should be relayed through schools, driving institutes, peers, social media, news and more to help drive the point through. Once young drivers know ways to prevent getting distracted while driving, they will be able to apply the knowledge. If parents or peers are present while the young driver is driving, they can try to point out some of the tips in order to help out.

Young drivers need to be educated about the dangers of distracted driving whether that be through videos, infographics, speeches, personal accounts, projects or anything else. These drivers then need to consciously realize their driving habits and then apply tips to help them not get distracted while driving.

Lindsay Douglass

Lindsay Douglass

Miami University

Lindsay's Essay

A few years ago, I read a statistic which reported that when a driver sneezes while behind the wheel, they are likely to travel around 50 feet with their eyes completely closed. Ever since reading this, I can always feel a little part of me panicking any time I feel a sneeze coming on while in the driver’s seat because the idea of driving anywhere from 30 to 70 mph in a vehicle with my eyes closed makes my blood run cold. Although my fear of sneezing while driving may seem silly, I know that drivers everywhere find themselves with their eyes off of the road for periods of time longer than it takes to sneeze due to various distractions while driving. Sadly, throughout the years, I’ve seen how this type of distracted driving has impacted both my community and our society as a whole. Therefore, I am motivated to raise awareness about this issue and share prevention strategies so that no more tragedies occur at the hands of distracted driving.

Twelve years ago, my family got a call that there had been a car accident involving one of my parents’ friends. I remember my mother crying uncontrollably in the other room as the news set in that her friend’s life had been taken at the young age of 36 and that her husband and three children would no longer have their wife and their mother with them. Eventually, it was shared that she had died after a distracted driver lost control of the wheel and crossed a median into our friend’s lane. Since I was young at the time, some of the details elude me surrounding the events. However, I will never forget the feeling of loss and grief at the funeral I attended with my family to mourn the loss of our family friend. At that moment, I felt angry. I blamed the woman who had killed my parents’ friend. But now, as I look back, the events are more complicated to me. I now understand that distracted driving isn’t the product of malicious intent or even explicit recklessness. Rather, it is something that happens every day without second thought. Sadly, anyone who checks their phone while driving could find themselves in the same position as the woman who hit our friend’s car.

Nowadays, I think our society runs at a speed that makes it impossible to focus on one thing without feeling as if you are falling behind. Consequently, driving a regular route becomes a perfect opportunity to whip out a cellphone and look through recent notifications just to save time later. Furthermore, because of the increasing technology being implemented into automobiles, many drivers may feel as if the act of driving does not require the same amount of attention or effort as before. Therefore, activities such as checking emails, responding to texts, and changing the music take precedence over keeping one’s eyes on the road. I am ashamed to say that I have fallen victim to this mindset at times because I feel as if I am wasting time if I do not use red lights to perform other tasks. In fact, the modern world tells us that multitasking is a mark of efficiency and productivity. However, multitasking and driving do not mix well.

I think it is a shame that we feel as if we cannot slow down and pay attention to one endeavor at a time. People die at the hands of distracted driving at an alarming rate, yet drivers everywhere continue to take their eyes off of the road to do a number of things. I believe social media and advanced technology has led to a constant need for stimulation and distraction, and this need has surpassed our fear of causing accidents while driving. Although I know that I myself have not always been a saint when it comes to ignoring distractions behind the wheel, I would like to make a commitment for the future that I will not continue to let this need to multitask influence me personally. I miss living in the moment and being able to enjoy the activity I am participating in without feeling as if I must be doing something else simultaneously in order to be productive or entertained. Therefore, my first step in raising awareness and promoting strategies begins with a personal pledge to not drive while distracted. In my opinion, social influence is one of the strongest tools when it comes to bringing about community change. If friends, family, and fellow community members see how one person is acting differently, and if this person encourages those they encounter to act the same, I believe their influence can create a ripple effect. Oftentimes, people brush off advice given to them in a generalized and impersonal manner. However, if I can engage people that I have a relationship with and share with them the personal pledge I have taken, I believe that my encouragement will actually impact them and possibly influence their behavior.

Although I had previously mentioned how the advancement of technology and social media may contribute to an increase in distracted driving, I also believe that they can serve as tools for prevention of such behavior. For example, I have personally chosen to implement certain security preferences that prevent me from being able to do things on my phone while driving. For example, I cannot do things such as browse Spotify, access Snapchat, or receive calls. These settings are available for anyone who has a smartphone, but I am not sure if many people are aware of their existence. Therefore, I would like to take advantage of the existing tools that have already been developed and promote their utilization. There are even some products that can be purchased that I love to use that I would like to recommend to others. One of these products includes a car mount that allows people to attach their phone to the front windshield so that it is out of reach but within eyesight. With this product, drivers can utilize applications such as GPS while keeping their eyes straight ahead. I find these gadgets extremely useful, and I will continue to promote their use in an effort to reduce the temptation many people face while driving.

Overall, I believe that distracted driving can be addressed through individuals sharing their stories and doing their best to influence others that they know to change their behaviors. Personally, I will commit to sharing my own experiences and point of views regarding the subject and promoting the utilization of existing tools that aid in decreasing distraction. Afterall, my motivation to do so comes from a desire to save lives and create safer streets for everyone.

Jenna Bowman

Jenna Bowman

Graham Hospital School of Nursing

Jenna's Essay

Distracted driving is a very serious issue in the current times. When talking about distracted driving, the first thing that comes to mind is texting and driving, however, there are numerous scenarios that could cause a driver to become distracted. Texting or talking on the phone, eating, and finding a good song on the radio are just some other forms of distracted driving, but anything that causes the driver to focus on something other than the road, could be considered a distraction. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the lives of 3,142 people were taken because of distracted driving in the year 2019. This source also reveals that texting or doing anything that is a distraction for just a short 5 seconds while traveling at a speed of 55 miles per hour, is equivalent to going the distance of a football field. These few short seconds that it takes to send a text message to a friend or family member could be the last text they ever get from you. This life changing text could not only be the last for your loved ones, but also the ones that happened to be on the road when you were distracted.

Everyone who drives or is a passenger in a vehicle have been affected in some way by distracted driving. Fortunately, I have not been directly affected by the consequences of distracted driving, but my small community was all taken back when there was a teenage girl who was killed in a single-car accident because of texting and driving. She was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the car. Another unfortunate tragedy struck the community last year when a woman who was highly under the influence of drugs and alcohol and driving at a high rate of speed hit and killed a grandmother and her three grandsons. This woman was distracted by drugs and alcohol and took four lives because of it. While on a recent vacation to the state of Colorado, there were many times when the scenery was breathtaking, and everyone wanted to look at the mountains or wildlife. It was easy for the driver to become distracted and want to look at the mountains or the wildlife, such as the moose or elk that we do not see on a regular basis.

All drivers are guilty of distracted driving in some way or another, whether it be reaching down for your next french fry or attempting to keep your hyper dog calm while you are trying to drive. People may not realize how much damage could be caused by doing what seems to be a simple task while driving until the damage has already be done, which is why education is very important. I feel that the best way to limit distracted driving is by providing education to school-age children. This potentially lifesaving education should begin at a young age and should continue throughout a child’s life, with a huge emphasis prior to the driving age. The information should be provided at an age-appropriate level to ensure that the children will be able to comprehend what is being taught to them. Activities could be incorporated as well. At the Illinois State Fair, there is a tent that is set up to bring awareness to drunk driving, which is also distracted driving. The activity they have is to put on goggles that simulate what it is like to drive while being intoxicated and then to attempt to ride a bike in a straight line while also avoiding hitting the orange cones. Using an activity with a concept similar to this would put distracted driving into perspective and could give people a reality check. An activity that could be created for distracted driving would be to ride a bicycle or a stationary car while attempting to do multiple things that were a distraction. A simulation car could be set up similar to a video game, where the “player” has to properly and safely drive a car while distracted. The video game could include a real-life situation while on the road with other cars. Another tent at the Illinois State Fair had an actual car that had been crashed as a result of texting while driving. The purpose of showing the car and sharing the story of the driver, who unfortunately died due to the crash, was to make people realize the dangers of distracted driving. Distracted driving should be promoted like seat belts have been. The education that has been provided about the importance of wearing a seat belt should be modeled for distracted driving. When educating about seat belts, distracted driving should also be included. Seat belts have been proven to save lives, and not being distracted while driving can save lives as well.

A slogan for a campaign about distracted driving could be, “Pump the Brakes on Distracted Driving,” or “Distracted Driving Doesn’t Discriminate.” These slogans could be used for a campaign to warn and educate others about distracted driving. The focus of “Pump the Brakes on Distracted Driving” is to put an end to distracted driving. Drivers should be encouraged to “pump the brakes” and pull over if they really need to send a text message or have an important call they need to make or take. The other slogan, “Distracted Driving Doesn’t Discriminate” is focused on letting people know that the consequences from distracted driving can happen to anybody and everyone needs to be educated and take their part to ensure they are being safe while on the road.

There have been many strides in technology over the years to keep drivers safer while on the roads. Buttons to change the radio station have been added to steering wheels to keep drivers from looking directly into the dash. Many vehicles are equipped with certain features that alert the driver if they cross the center line. On interstates, rumble strips have been put on the side of the road to jostle the driver if they begin to veer off.

While the act of distracted driving is not intended to hurt anyone, it can be life altering or even be fatal. This is why it is so important to provide education to present and future drivers. Do not be another number of a life that was taken too soon because of distracted driving.

Margarita Sanchez

Margarita Sanchez

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Margarita's Essay

The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that cell phones were being used during 25% of car crashes in the U.S. I remember being at school participating in the honor roll ceremony, talking with my friends about how time is quickly going by. That same day something very unfortunate happened. As I was speaking with my friends at the ceremony, I started seeing this group of guys whisper between one another. I thought that the whispering was the usual conversation about school drama and gossip. But I saw that one of the boys in the group, who was my friend, started to fill his face with distress. I knew something was happening because his emotions translated to everyone in the group. As the ceremony came to an end, I went back to my locker and my stomach felt uneasy as if I had a hole engulfing my stomach. I vividly remember the day the news broke out; it was on that same day of my honor roll ceremony that I found out my friend had died. My body started to deliver hot waves that rushed all the way to my head, I was left speechless. I did not know the reason why his life came to an end, so I asked my friend who was in the group. He mentioned that it dealt with distracted driving, but the specific reason was not stated. After a close deliberation of his incident, the cause of death was stated as “texting and driving”. My friend, who unfortunately passed away, was always the light of the room, made jokes whether he was your friend or not, made you feel included and never as an outcast. His life was taken away because of something that could have been prevented. My friend probably thought that his texting and driving would never bring him on the verge of death, but it did. The scary part of texting and driving and all other forms of distracted driving is that it does not care about your economic status, the life you have lived, and age. Distracted driving took my friend’s life, it took his life in an instant, and the most heart aching thing is that I will never be able to see him again.

My friend fell under the manual distraction category, he physically took his hands off the steering wheel to make a text and cause a distraction to his driving. There is a myriad of other distractions that fall under two other categories, cognitive and visual. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) driving a vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated. Distracted driving has not only affected my life, but it has also affected many other families and that is why it is so important to bring more awareness to this issue. I am a young adult and catch myself doing small things such as eating while driving when I am running late to school, but things like these interfere with my focus on the road. With the recent surge of technological advancements, we have relied on devices that follow us everywhere and more specifically, on the road. The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that cell phones were being used during 25% of car crashes in the U.S. This statistic is important because it reveals that collaboration between our technological devices and car manufacturers needs to occur. We know that a lot of states have enacted distracted driving laws, but this can only go so far, we need a better plan that actively eliminates the urge to reach for our cellphones or any other electronic devices. By blending these two aspects, we can create cars that work with cellphones that would not allow for any driver to access a cellphone unless it is an emergency. This idea would take some time, but it is a step in the right direction because by simply implementing laws that ban electronic devices, people will still have no physical barrier hindering them and will reach out to use them. Distracting driving can end your life, but it can also take others, which is scary. Focusing on the educational level, organizations that are working to end distracted driving should implement and host events that bring in families of victims. Including the emotional perspective can greatly be enough change for people who do not know the seriousness of distracted driving. Since we know that most car crashes due to distracted driving involve young teens and adults, informational sessions about how to be a more “defensive driver” should be held at least once a month. If schools do not want these sessions, they should seek to include a course about defensive driving in their driver’s education curriculum. Making these courses part of the driver’s educational curriculum could heavily reduce distracted driving among our youth because they could sharpen their driving skills and help them avoid distractions.

Texting and calling people is not the only source of distracted driving, so that means that creating an awareness campaign against distracted driving that includes all sorts of distractions is vital. We know that influencers play a huge role in our youth population, so why not use this to our advantage? Online influencers should collaborate with organizations that are trying to combat distracted driving to mainstream awareness into the online sector. Using influencers can shift the perspective that careful driving is not only to not text and drive but also eliminating all sorts of distractions that reduce the focus on the road. Mainstreaming awareness on distracted driving into movies could also help, we are indirectly conditioning people to engage in better driving without them knowing that they are being conditioned into a specific behavior.

Distracted driving is becoming a bigger threat and solutions need to happen quickly. The NHTSA estimated in 2012 that distraction was a factor in about 10 percent of all fatal motor vehicle crashes and 18 percent of all crashes causing injury. These accidents are attributed to a variety of causes, but we must keep finding innovative solutions that will be beneficial for us in the long run. We all know someone who has partaken in distracted driving, we all know someone who has been a victim because of others’ distracted driving, but we all know that solutions must be created and implemented soon to stop another person’s life from ending.

Agam Gupta

Agam Gupta

University of California, Berkeley

Agam's Essay

Jack had dreams to pursue, places to explore, vacations to take, and adventures to experience. He aspired to become a sports medicine physician, wanted to travel the world, and actively sought to hike the tallest peaks, skydive from thousands of feet, and paraglide across big valleys. But, in a mere fraction of a second, his life and aspirations were destroyed. He was texting on his phone while driving when he accidentally ran a red light and got rammed perpendicularly by a pickup truck. This catastrophic collision left him paralysed from the waist down, crushing his future ambitions. Along with that, the disastrous accident devastated the lives of his loved ones. A cloud of grief and a period of mourning set over his family and friends.

Jack was one of my closest friends and his unfortunate accident always flashes my mind when I set out to drive. But even after being informed of the tragic incident, I still get sudden impulsive urges to check my phone for new text messages, calls, or social media notifications. These impulsive urges divert my attention from the roads, making me vulnerable to potential disastrous mishaps that can lead to catastrophic tragedies. Unfortunately, Jack and I are not the only people whose lives have been drastically suffered from distracted driving. The problem of distracted driving has plagued our modern society and drastically affected the younger population. In a study conducted in 2009, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that “5474 people were killed in the United States in accidents involving distracted driving” (Hosanky). Along with this, distracted driving also injured 448,000 people. Out of those 5474 deaths, 16% aged under-20 and 24% aged between 20 and 39. Since 2009, the automobile concentration has increased steeply and thus the fatalities have most probably also increased. There are multitudinal sources of distractions, including but not limited to adjusting the radio, staring at outside scenery, looking at the GPS system, daydreaming, or putting on makeup. But it is the widespread growing use of cellphones and an addictive attachment to social media that has taken a toll on safe driving and contributes to the most distracted driving accidents.

Distracted driving is a fatal problem. It is an immense issue that can detrimentally affect and destroy thousands of lives every year. This bedevils our society and we ought to create awareness on the dangers of this issue. Lack of awareness stems from inadequate education. There should be substantial focus on the ill-effects of distracted driving in Drivers-Education courses that are given to teens and new drivers. It should include the potential distractions inside the car and should be backed up by statistics. It has been widely proven that students retain and reflect on information better if the

instruction is delivered through personal anecdotes or narratives over extensive textbook readings. Thus, the Drivers-Education curriculum should include the recitation of a personal recollection by a person whose life was negatively affected by distracted driving. Furthermore, the government must also partake in the duty of generating awareness. They should put billboards on highways and organize campaigns at the local level to educate the public on the sources and consequences of distracted driving. Prominent civil servants such as governors, senators, and representatives should release public service announcements or fund advertisements on social media platforms that highlight the magnitude of the perils of distracted driving. Additionally, parents of new drivers must dutily inform their children of hazards of using phones while driving. They have to teach their children from the occasional impulsive urges of checking their phones. This can only be done when drivers understand that it is their personal responsibility to be obligated to the safety of their fellow drivers for the greater well-being of our society.

But even with major improvements and advancements in driver education about distracted driving, drivers will still be prone to get distracted. Driving can get repetitive and boring, and it is a human trait to explore new distractions to extinguish boredom. Cellphones and social media readily satiates this as it continuously offers new updates, texts, and gossip. Thus, we ought to create software or technologies to counteract these attention-grabbing social media outlets and phones. We could create an app which continuously detects the speed at which the phone is moving through GPS technology.

When this app detects a speed of over 20 mph, most probably indicating the user is in an automobile, it will block all notifications and calls to prevent distractions. Furthermore, we could also invent a small facial recognition camera device that gets attached in front of the driver. When this device detects that the driver’s eyes are not on the road for a specified amount of time(say 2 seconds) while the vehicle is moving, it beeps loudly, thereby reminding the driver to take caution. But no matter how ingenious the technologies are, there is always a source of human error. Therefore, we need to

partially or completely automate automobiles. Wholly automated automobiles, though taking away elements of independence and freedom that are often associated with conventional vehicles, will result in few or no accidents as the vehicles will be commanded by artificial intelligence software whose decision-making and reaction time immensely trumps humans’. This will surely solve the problem of distracted driving as drivers would not be the primary decision makers. Even partially automated automobiles equipped with reactionary technologies will subside the frequency of collisions due to distracted driving. Automobiles equipped with automatic emergency braking (vehicle inbuilt system that brakes automatically if it senses a potential collision or a red light before the driver can react) or lane-keep assist (helps steer vehicles so that they don’t move out of lanes without turn signal) will help substantially reduce the likelihood and severity of automobile accidents. Therefore, it is only through extensive educational outreach propelled by government efforts, partaking of personal responsibility, and advancements in technologies that we can eradicate the problem of distracted driving and save the lives and dreams of thousands.

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