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Congrats to our 2017 Kelsey’s Law Scholarship Stop Distracted Driving Contest winners!

October 16, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

In our Stop Distracted Driving Contest, four students created the most persuasive Tweet, graphic and videos to help prevent teen distracted driving car crashes

Stop Distracted Driving Contest
Top photo: Steven Gursten of Michigan Auto Law (second from left) stands with three of the winners in Michigan Auto Law’s second annual “Kelsey’s Law Scholarship: Stop Distracted Driving Contest”: Ellie Rocheleau (from left), who was named Best Video winner; Kelley Sweitzer, who was named Best Overall winner; and Kevin Chen, who was named Best Tweet winner. All three are University of Michigan freshmen. Bottom photo: Zeeland West High School senior Nicole Sherman (second from right) was named Best Graphic winner in Michigan Auto Law’s second annual “Kelsey’s Law Scholarship: Stop Distracted Driving Contest.” She is pictured here with Bonnie Raffaele (from left), Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Brandon Hewitt of Michigan Auto Law.

With this week being National Teen Driver Safety Week, our attorneys are proud to honor four students for helping us educate teen drivers about the dangers of distracted driving.

Our four 2017 “Kelsey’s Law Scholarship Stop Distracted Driving Contest” winners received $5,000 worth of college scholarships for creating the most convincing new-driver safety messages by way of a video, a graphic or a tweet.

Why our attorneys created Stop Distracted Driving Scholarship Contest

Kelsey Raffaele, a Sault Ste. Marie 17-year-old, was tragically killed in a 2010 car accident. She was on her cell phone while driving. Her mother, Bonnie Raffaele, wanted to do everything she could to help teen drivers understand how dangerous distracted driving is. So Bonnie almost single-handedly got the Michigan Legislature to pass Kelsey’s Law, Michigan’s first teen cell phone ban (Public Act 592 of 2012). It prohibits cell phone use by teen drivers with a Level 2 graduated license (when 16-year-olds can drive a motor vehicle without an adult in the state of Michigan).

When our own auto accident attorneys learned about Bonnie’s story and her efforts to stop distracted driving, we were so moved that we wanted to help. In the past several years, our own attorneys have seen an explosion of car accidents caused by distracted driving. We’ve become increasingly aware of studies that compare the dangers of distracted driving to driving intoxicated. We all felt we needed to do something to help educate the public about how dangerous texting when driving and driving distracted can be.

So last year we launched our Kelsey’s Law Scholarship Stop Distracted Driving Contest. The response we received was amazing. By working with high school students, we hope that we can reach an audience that might otherwise tune us out as older adults and as lawyers. Working with high school teens who, by crafting creative, emotional messages, are helping to spread Bonnie’s message about the dangers of distracted driving, can be so much more effective.

Here are the four 2017 Kelsey’s Law Scholarship Stop Distracted Driving Contest winners as advocates for the cause.

Best Overall: Kelley Sweitzer

Kelley graduated from East Lansing High School this past June and is currently attending the University of Michigan. She created a powerful video message about how choosing to drive distracted “can not only affect your life, but the lives of everyone around you. … No text is worth the risk.”

Best Video: Ellie Rocheleau

A University of Michigan freshman, Ellie graduated from Troy Athens High School in June. In Ellie’s video, a teen driver (played by Ellie) is about to reply to a text … until she has a face-to-face encounter with her conscience (also played by Ellie). Her message? “Save yourself from yourself.”

Best Graphic: Nicole Sherman

Nicole, a senior at Zeeland West High School, created a graphic that depicts how texting and driving can turn a scene of eight close-knit friends into only seven. In it, seven teens have their arms linked at the shoulders, with the message below reading:

“Yesterday there was eight of them… Don’t let texting and driving cost you a friend #xMyText”

Best Tweet: Kevin Chen

Kevin graduated from Canton High School this past June and is a freshman the University of Michigan. He needed just 106 characters (out of Twitter’s 140-character maximum) to explain what kind of danger can happen in 5-second increments:

“Would you drive with your eyes closed? With every text being a 5 second blindfold… IT CAN WAIT. #xMyText”

You can view our four winners’ entries here.

Distracted driving is an epidemic. Bonnie Raffaele is on a mission to eradicate it

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teens in the United States. The Michigan Department of State Police reports that in 2016, 11.1 percent of drivers involved in Michigan crashes were between ages 16 and 20 (59,865 drivers), while teens made up 8.9 percent (139 drivers) who were in fatal crashes.

Further, MichiganTrafficCrashFacts.org reports that in 2016, 1,893 motor vehicle drivers in Michigan were reported to be using cell phones at the time of a crash — and 18.3 percent were 20 years old or younger.

It’s through campaigns like National Teen Driver Safety Week (sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and Bonnie’s advocacy work with the National Safety Council and her “Kids Driving Responsibly” program with schools, that we can change those numbers for the better.

In fact, Bonnie was in Grand Rapids on October 7, 2017, for her “Put Your Phone on Ice” fundraiser at that night’s Grand Rapids Griffins game — and she got to present Nicole Sherman with her scholarship award before the game. Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Michigan Auto Law attorney and COO Brandon Hewitt were on hand to congratulate Nicole, too.

On behalf of our attorneys, I send a sincere thank-you to Bonnie for her extraordinary advocacy work and her generous help with this scholarship contest.

The 2018 Kelsey’s Law Scholarship — Stop Distracted Driving Contest is now open for submissions. The deadline to apply is August 31, 2018. To apply, visit our Kelsey’s Law Scholarship page.

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