EDITOR'S NOTE: Story updated on Oct. 6, 2020 to include dates of the 2020-2021 S4SD program.
LANSING, Mich. — During the teenage years, parents are often kicked off their pedestal and peer groups become more influential. While the thought of this might horrify some parents, not all peer influence is negative. Influence is a powerful tool that can also be harnessed for good.
Kyle Green, International Coordinator for Ford Driving Skills for Life, calls this the good kind of peer pressure.
"It's teens talking to teens and role modeling healthy and safe behaviors for each other," he said.
With motor vehicle crashes continuing to be the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, a special initiative to tap into this peer-to-peer power was developed by the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning and Ford Driving Skills for Life. Strive for a Safer Drive (S4SD) provides participating Michigan high schools with funding and resources to help teens teach other teens about safe driving in hopes of reducing teen driver traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, crashes involving at least one young driver (15 to 20 years old) totaled 4,750 in 2017.
Dave Logel, Student Council Advisor at Grand Ledge High School said he heard about the initiative three years ago when a student brought a flyer to school.
"The first thing that got the students interested was prize money and statewide competition, but now the prize is about making sure everybody shows up to graduation," Logel said. "At the end of the day adults can preach, but peer influence is what will make teens adopt new behaviors."
During the 2018-2019 school year, close to 90,000 students from the 63 participating high schools were exposed to the traffic safety campaigns.
Jayden O'Hagan, senior from West Shore ESD in Ludington, was part of the team that took first place in the 2018-2019 initiative. For him the experience was far more than he expected. S4SD he explained provided him the opportunity to grow as a person by learning professional business skills like grant writing, fundraising and balancing a budget. Most importantly though, it was the pride he felt when sharing facts with his non seat belt wearing peers.
"There's no better feeling than having someone thank you for teaching them something new that could potentially save their life," he said. "This project provided me with knowledge that I can use forever to change the lives of other teens who can then go on to change the lives of other people."
Selected schools will receive a grant of up to $1,000 to assist with the implementation of their traffic safety campaigns.
Ken Raisanen, a recently retired teacher from Ontonagon High School in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, still goes to the school three days a week to run the radio station and to advise the school's S4SD team.
Raisanen feels the best way for radio students to learn about promotions is to get their hands dirty running a promotion while building a feeling that they are doing something real and important for their peers.
"For a small school like ours with only 100 students and little money for frills, it would be very difficult to do a program on the same scale without this opportunity," Raisanen said.
All Michigan high schools are eligible to apply for the 2020-2021 school year. Application deadline is Nov. 20, 2020.
Click here for additional information about the Strive 4 A Safer Drive program.