Students focus on dangers of distracted driving for county contest

Eric Sucar

High school students from Middlesex County produced 30- to 60-second public service announcements to warn their friends and classmates about the dangers of driving while impaired or distracted.

The winners of Middlesex County’s 18th Annual 3D-Don’t Drive Dangerously PSA Contest were announced during a conference in their honor held at the Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayreville on May 8.

First place in the video category went to East Brunswick High School, second place went to Monroe Township High School and third place went to Dunellen High School. The winning school received $1,000, second place received $750 and third place received $500.

First place in the audio category went to Carteret High School, second place went to Monroe Township High School; and third place went to Middlesex County Academy for Allied Health & Biomedical Sciences in Edison. The winning school received $500, second place received $300 and third place received $200.

All winnings support Project Graduation or other driver safety and awareness programs.

Additionally, the N.J. Division of Highway Traffic Safety provided gift certificates to each member of the winning teams.

The contest coincides with prom season to remind all students of the seriousness of distracted driving, according to information provided by the Middlesex County Office of Communication.

“The PSAs are incredibly well done, the students have a real sense of accomplishment, and we’re helping to promote a message that can save lives,” Freeholder Shanti Narra, chair of the county’s Public Safety and Health Committee, said in the statement. “Families are shattered and lives are lost because of impaired or distracted driving. This program sends a powerful message to young drivers that we hope will be heard and remembered.”

High school students from 11 schools produced 16 videos and six audio tapings that promote driving safety to their peers and to adults. English and Spanish language video submissions and English language audio submissions were judged on their originality, creativity, sound quality and strength of message, according to the statement.

“At the county Office of Education, I am committed to supporting this awareness and work for the safety and well-being of our school communities in Middlesex County,” Yasmin Hernández-Manno, interim executive county superintendent of schools, said in the statement. “The creativity you used in making the videos and audios sends a clear message to your peers of driving safely, especially now in this age of so much social media which is distracting so many drivers and leading to unfortunate consequences on the road. I would like to congratulate the students and the winning schools. I would like to express how proud I am of all of you for representing Middlesex County, continuing this important mission and spreading the word of ‘Don’t Drive Dangerously.’”

The county received $15,000 in grants from the New Jersey State Division of Highway Traffic Safety to run the PSA program.

“On behalf of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety, I congratulate the Middlesex County Comprehensive Traffic Safety Program and the Board of Chosen Freeholders for their continued outstanding work with this program,” Edward O’Connor, regional supervisor of the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety, said in the statement. “By involving the students in the production of these PSAs, they are creating current and future advocates for safety as well as more effective outreach to the rest of the student population. Middlesex County continues to lead the state in innovative and effective methods for motivating its student population, pedestrians and motorists in general.”

The program is co-sponsored by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, the Middlesex County Superintendent of Schools, the Wellspring Center for Prevention, the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey and the Level One Trauma Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.

Ezra Helfand, executive director of the Wellspring Center for Prevention, said in the statement, “All of us at Wellspring are very proud of each student who participated in this year’s PSA contest. We strongly believe that it’s the process of making the PSAs that has the most lasting effect on the students. When putting the messages together, students are doing the research, talking to their friends … really thinking about it. I hope that they carry this message to their peers well after this contest is over, and into the future.”

During the morning of the ceremony, students engaged in creative group activities, gained a realistic perspective on teenage drinking and experienced everyday activities through “Fatal Vision” goggles, which simulate elevated blood-alcohol levels, according to the statement.

“Members of law enforcement in Middlesex County work diligently and tirelessly to protect the public. In order for their efforts to be successful, the public must be educated as to the dangers which exist, and must believe in the initiatives proposed by law enforcement,” Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey said in the statement. “Today’s participants have greatly assisted us in our mission to stop dangerous driving. I congratulate and thank all of the students. I also assure you that we will continue to be vigilant and aggressive in our efforts to detect and prosecute those who engage in distracted and impaired driving.”

The winning entries are available at www.middlesexcountynj.gov by searching “PSA”.