One Unsafe Step Is One Too Many
How many students heard the message?
Estimated percentage of your student body?
Who has your project aimed to reach?
- Freshman class
- Sophomore class
- Junior class
- Senior class
- Community at large
Since the Nikhil Badlani Foundation Youth Advisory Board has three different committees, each committee has a different goal in order to achieve the overall goal of the Youth Advisory Board, to spread awareness of distracted driving. The goal of the Public Policy Committee is to advocate for bills to be passed into law. We continue to advocate for Michelle Sous Bill. Michelle was only 17 when she was struck by a car while crossing a street. Her family was devastated by her loss, made even harder because they didn’t know the cause for the crash and there was no closure for the family. There was no drug test performed on the driver who caused the crash. This bill mandates that drug and alcohol testing be performed by obtaining a blood sample when there is a fatality. The second bill that we decided to advocate for this school year is Bill #1354, formally known as Bill #4018. The bill requires permit holders to record a minimum of 50 hours of practice driving, of which at least 10 hours should be in darkness. It also proposes increasing the amount of time that a permit holder is required to hold a permit before becoming eligible for a probationary license from 6 months to 12 months. Next, the goal of the Education Committee is to educate the teens on dangers of distracted driving, the importance of wearing seat belts and passenger safety. Last year the committee presented to the middle schoolers. This year the focus was on the freshmen group during their gym classes, utilizing interactive sketches. Lastly, the goal of the Municipal Committee was to continue work with the West Orange Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board to make recommendations to improve the safety on West Orange streets.
The groups targeted by our project include the entirety of the West Orange school district, the community of West Orange, and the state of New Jersey as a whole. We aimed to accomplish this by having each committee focus on a different group. For instance, the Policy Committee focused on passing laws that would impact all New Jersey residents. On the other hand, the Municipal Committee worked towards traffic safety reforms at the West Orange municipality level. And, the Education Committee developed programs to inform West Orange school district students of their responsibilities when acting as pedestrians or getting behind the driver’s wheel.
The Youth Advisory Board kicked off its campaign at the 9th Annual Stop for Nikhil Run/Walk. At the Run/Walk, our President, Darlene Folas presented to over 800 people about the YAB mission and reinforced that it was important to educate high school students about safe driving practices. We also set up a booth at the Run/Walk where we educated and advocated for Michelle Sous’ bill and collected signatures in support of the bill. We also actively recruited new Youth Advisory Board members. This year we expanded our board from nine to fifteen members. On December 16, 2019, the Board made the trip to Trenton and spoke with Assemblymen Wimberly and McKeon, primary sponsors of Michelle Sous’ Law, to discuss the bill’s status and how we could help its progress through the state house. Over the year, we’ve collected more than 200 signatures in support of Michelle Sous’ Law. While in Trenton, we also spoke to Assemblyman Benson, the primary sponsor of Bill #4018, to discuss the next steps. The bill was reintroduced in January. We had a video conference call with him recently (in early April) to discuss how the lockdown would impact the progress of the bill. In addition to the Policy Committee, the Municipal Committee implemented its project by raising pedestrian safety concerns on Pleasant Valley Way and Woodland Avenue, ultimately leading to a pedestrian push-to walk button being installed at the location this year. In April, the committee planned to host a Traffic Safety fair at Essex Green, a local shopping center, but due to these unprecedented times they were unable to do so. To promote the fair, they were going to present to the West Orange town council, but now are going to present to them in June about the overall mission of the Youth Advisory Board. Lastly, the Education Committee focused on educating high school freshmen during their gym classes, utilizing interactive sketches. Unfortunately they were not able to present due to the lockdown.
The Nikhil Badlani Foundation Youth Advisory Board used teamwork to maximize the amount of work able to be done in a short amount of time. For instance, by splitting up the board into three committees, where students worked together within each committee, while also collaborating with other committees, enabled ideas to be developed quickly. Similarly, the entire Nikhil Badlani Foundation Youth Advisory Board met once every week, and each committee was required to have smaller committee meetings once a week, in addition to the full board meetings. Furthermore, sign-in sheets were used at each meeting to ensure all members were in attendance, and all members were required to wear their Nikhil Badlani Foundation Youth Advisory Board t-shirt to each meeting. This strong sense of teamwork enabled us to continue our initiatives even when our school year was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our future plans include continuing to advocate for bills such as Michelle Sous bill and Bill #4018. Based on Assemblyman Benson’s recommendation we are in the process of sending letters to legislators to sponsor and support Bill #4018. We will also educate West Orange High School freshmen about pedestrian, passenger and driver safety, while also working closely with theVision Zero New Jersey Coalition, a newly formed group consisting of multiple organizations, to advocate for vision zero in New Jersey.
Use of Resources:
Over the course of our project’s implementation, we worked hard to use local resources to help identify, deliver, assess, and present our project. For instance, our Policy Committee used our town’s close relationship with Assemblyman John McKeon (our town’s former mayor) to make connections with other assemblymen that lead initiatives to pass a variety of driving safety bills. Additionally, the Municipal Committee worked with the West Orange Pedestrian Safety Advisory Board to make recommendations to improve the safety of West Orange streets. Last school year the committee raised pedestrian safety concerns on Pleasant Valley Way and Woodland Avenue. In March, a pedestrian push-to walk button was installed as a result of their recommendation. In April, the Municipal Committee’s plan was to host a Traffic Safety fair and planned to work with local businesses, the Youth Advisory Board, police department, student volunteers, etc. to create an in-person event which included car seats and seat belt checks, a bike rodeo, a video game simulation to demonstrate distracted driving, while also distributing “Share the Keys” booklets to spread traffic safety awareness in West Orange. Furthermore, last year, the board created the STOP For Nikhil Safety Pledge mural in West Orange High School, which reinforced good driving behavior and expanded the Drivers Ed curriculum. Now, each sophomore who passes the written test will be required to take the pledge by putting their thumb print on the mural. In January, this project was recognized as a Top Ten Project by the New Jersey Association of Student Councils due to our partnership with West Orange High Schools Student Council. We received an award at the annual Winter Leadership Conference held at The College of New Jersey. Over 300 students were present at this event, and learned about our project and our mission. Therefore, we partnered with a variety of organizations to fulfill our mission to spread awareness of driving safety.
Use of Media:
Throughout our project, media was widely used to spread awareness of driving safety. For instance, during prom and graduation months, we planned to create a public service announcement for high school seniors, because the time surrounding prom is typically the most dangerous for teens. Furthermore, we aimed to build on our Traffic Safety week from last year, by collaborating with the West Orange Student Broadcasting Leadership to film and release the PSA, which emphasized making smart decisions. We planned to release our PSA and advertise our campaign district-wide through social media. However, we were not able to host these events or create a PSA due to the pandemic, which occurred at the time of prom. In addition to the PSA, the Youth Advisory Board also used platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to spread the message of driving safety, while our mural project and driving safety campaign was advertised in the local West Orange Chronicle Newspaper and websites such as Patch.com, informing a wider audience of our cause.
Our project demonstrates an understanding of teen driving safety in the sense that it recognizes teen driving safety is a multifaceted problem that requires many different types of initiatives to be adequately confronted. For this reason, our board’s three committees are optimal in the sense that they each focus on a different facet of the issue. For instance, the Policy Committee confronts the issue of a lack of statewide regulation on distracted driving and unprepared teen drivers by advocating for Michelle Sous’ Law and Bill #4018. Concurrently, the Municipal Committee has worked to increase township regulation of safe driving and pedestrian practices by planning a Traffic Safety Fair and having a pedestrian push-to-walk button installed at a busy intersection in West Orange. Lastly, the Education Committee confronts the lack of education in teenagers about the dangers of irresponsible driving and pedestrian practices through presentations at the middle school and high school levels.
The main gauge our board has utilized to determine the change and impact that have occurred as a result of our project include surveys and petition signatures. For instance, during the process of lobbying for Michelle Sous’ Law we used a petition to gather signatures of those in support of the bill being passed. For this reason, the increase of the number of signatures on the petition signified that our educational initiatives were effective in spreading awareness of the dangers of unregulated distracted driving. By the same token, throughout our annual Driving Safety week a survey is released before and after the week has concluded to ask students and community members about the new information they have learned about driving safety. Surveys such as these were planned to be included in the Traffic Safety Fair organized by the board to increase outreach to the general West Orange community.
Our project will have a lasting effect within our target group in a variety of ways. First off, our Policy Committee’s work with Michelle Sous’ Law and Bill #4018 have helped the two bills move along the process to become laws. In the case these two bills become laws, this piece of our project will leave permanent changes on the state of New Jersey’s fight against distracted driving. Furthermore, the Municipal Committee’s work with having a pedestrian push-to-walk button installed in our town is a permanent change that will make the intersection of Pleasant Valley Way and Woodland Avenue in West Orange safer for pedestrians for years to come. Lastly the Education Committee’s work with spreading awareness of distracted driving in the West Orange school district has led to permanent driver’s education curriculum changes as well as a brand new driving simulator, (from last year’s UGotBrains Competition) to be used for many future students.
Unexpected Lessons Learned:
One unintended result that came out of the Youth Advisory Board’s project this year was the forging of new relationships with many lawmakers. Following our visit to Trenton, New Jersey, we continued to stay in contact with Assemblymen McKeon, Benson, and Wimberly, and even scheduled various online calls to discuss Michelle Sous’ Law and Bill #4018 with them. Following these calls, the offices of these lawmakers continued to reach out to us to schedule future online and in-person meetings, in addition to proposing to come and speak to our entire school about their work. At these future meetings, we look forward to further discussing these driving safety bills in concurrence with additional legislation to change New Jersey’s roads for the better.
As the U Got Brains Champion Schools Program is funded through the Division of highway Traffic Safety, funds raised as a result of the stipend received must be reinvested into transportation safety. If yes, please briefly report the total amount and how this money will be reinvested into transportation safety for your school/community?
Because of COVID-19, we were not able to host several events. The funds will be used in the upcoming school year towards traffic safety initiatives such as hosting a community wide Traffic Safety Day at a public place, Traffic Safety Week at West Orange High School, and educating our peers.