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Western Wayne County teens Olivia Zack and Owen Oszust don't know anyone personally who has been killed in a distracted-driving traffic accident — and they want to keep it that way.
That is one factor that motivated Zack, 19, from Plymouth, and Oszust, 17, from Canton, to enter Michigan Auto Law's annual Kelsey Law Distracted Driving Awareness scholarship competition — a contest created in memory of Kelsey Raffaele of Sault Ste. Marie, who died in 2010 in a cell phone-related automobile crash at the age of 17.
Oszust, a senior at Plymouth High School, won a $1,000 scholarship for his graphic that featured a flat-lining cardiogram with the words: A look down can change someone's life in a heartbeat. Every heartbeat matters. Stop texting and driving.
Zack, a first-year student at Schoolcraft College, won a $500 scholarship for this tweet: Driving is already one of the most dangerous risks we take every day. Don't let a text increase that risk. Stop driving distracted NOW.
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"I know a couple of kids who have gotten into accidents because of distracted driving," said Oszust. "It's a serious issue that needs to be addressed. They show videos of crashes at driver's ed, but that doesn't always stop kids from doing it. I thought heart line image would hit home."
Zack concurred with Oszust, saying she's disturbed every time she witnesses someone texting while driving.
"I have a family member who does it a lot and it bothers me," she said. "I've never had my own experience with it, neither have my family members, luckily, but I always see it when I'm driving and it kind of makes me annoyed."
Four winners were selected from the 130 entries. James Swanson III, from Iron River, won a $2,000 scholarship for a video he submitted, while Cameon Wade of Troy won a $1,500 scholarship for his compelling video.
Raffaele's mother, Bonnie, worked relentlessly with the Michigan legislature to enact Kelsey’s Law in 2013, which prohibits Level 1 and 2 drivers from using a handheld mobile phone while driving a vehicle.
“We are deeply impressed by the creativity and professionalism of the students submissions,” says Michigan Auto Law President and Attorney Steven Gursten. “Car accidents are the number one killer of teens and texting while driving increases your risk of crashing by 23 times.
"Anything we can do to get the word out and convince teens to put down their phones is crucial. These students have contributed to this endeavor with ingenuity and imagination.”
Zack fears the texting-while-driving problem may get worse before it decreases.
"There are so many different forms of texting now — Snapchat and other notifications for Instagram are coming out — it's not just a quick text anymore," she said. "People will be driving while they're full-on Instagram, which I think is absurd. I don't understand their thinking.
"I hope it decreases, but realistically I'm not optimistic because there are so many new apps that are coming out and people can't wait to use them."
When asked to make a plea to teenagers who may be texting while driving on a regular basis, Oszust's reply was compelling.
"Don't let your decisions impact someone else's life," he said. "If you're going to look down at your phone and then look back up and crash into someone's car and someone dies, that's going to change not only that person's life forever, but their family and friends' lives."
Distracted-driving fines in Michigan are $100 for a first offense and $200 for a second offense.
Statistics compiled throughout 2018 by carsurance.com are eye-opening:
Applications for the 2020 Kelsey Law Scholarship is open and the deadline is March 31, 2020, to coincide with National Distracted Driving Awareness Month. To learn more about the scholarship and submission rules, visit the Michigan Auto Law Distracted Driving Scholarship page.