SRO Kjell Michelsen, center, is pictured with UCHS students, pictured from left, Nick Farnor, Aaron Fregoso, Emalee Benard and Bridget Michelsen. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Students from the Unicoi County High School SADD chapter in Erwin have won the $2,500 top prize in #DrivingSkills101 – Pass on Passengers, a nationwide contest sponsored by Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) and The National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF).

The #DrivingSkills101 contest challenged teens in SADD chapters to create a safe driving campaign about the risks to teen drivers of having too many passengers in the car, with the goals of gaining school involvement, local media engagement and community interaction. Many states have GDL (graduated driver licensing) laws prohibiting teens from driving with other teens in the car, acknowledging the risk of distraction.

The UCHS SADD Chapter, with advisor Kjell Michelsen, proposed a video that shows a teen getting into her car, followed by several others dressed as clowns making noise, fooling with the radio and even one blowing a trumpet. The driver is obviously distracted.

The scene winds back to show the safe way teens should behave by having only one passenger in the car.

Students in the winning SADD chapter worked with an Emmy Award-winning TV director who came to their school to help them produce their video, which will debut at the SADD National Conference in Phoenix. It will also be featured on the syndicated show “Teen Kids News,” which airs on more than 160 TV stations nationwide.

According to Michelsen, students participating in the video created at UCHS were Mariana Graybeal, Nick Farnor, Emma Jones, Katie Gardner, Aaron Fregoso, Bridget Michelsen and Emalee Benard. Jones and Brandolyn Thomas attended the conference.

“Young drivers are involved in fatal crashes at three times the rate of more experienced drivers, and because of their inexperience, driving with other teens adds the risk of distraction,” said Rick Birt, President and CEO of SADD. “With support and encouragement from our partners at The National Road Safety Foundation, the contest helps motivate our student leaders to spread the safety message to their peers and their communities.”

“Traffic crashes continue to be a leading killer of teens,” said Michelle Anderson of The National Road Safety Foundation. “Distraction caused by other teens in the car is a factor in many crashes, and we think the message created by the students in Tennessee helps address this issue in a memorable way.”

The following nine SADD chapters were selected as finalists and will each receive $250: Dothan High School, Dothan, Alabama; McClellan High School, Antelope, California; Alameda High School, Alameda, California; Montrose School, Medfield, Massachusetts; Farmingdale Senior High School, Farmingdale, New York; Conestoga Valley High School, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Berkeley Springs High School, Berkeley Springs, West Virginia; and Wheeling Park High School, Wheeling, West Virginia.

About SADD: For almost 40 years, SADD, the nation’s premier youth health & safety organization has worked to empower teens, engage parents, mobilize communities, and change lives around the issues of traffic safety, substance abuse, and personal health and safety. Through a national network of peer-led chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges, SADD equips our students with the resources they need to advocate for change on their campuses and in their communities. Join the movement by visiting www.sadd.org, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

About The National Road Safety Foundation: For more than 55 years, The National Road Safety Foundation (NRSF), a non-profit organization, has created driver education programs for free distribution to teachers, police, traffic safety agencies, youth advocacy groups and others. NRSF has programs on distracted driving, speed and aggression, impaired driving, drowsy driving and other traffic safety issues. NRSF also sponsors national contests for teens in partnership with SADD, NOYS and Scholastic and regional contests partnering with auto shows in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. To view free programs and for more information, visit www.nrsf.org or www.teenlane.org.