ST. PETERSBURG — The Teen Safe Driving Coalition is an annual Leadership Conference held at the All Children’s Education Center in St. Petersburg. This year 23 schools and 15 counties were represented by 56 students from all across Florida.
Teens are educated over the course of four days in many different aspects of safe driving. This conference doesn’t just focus on the necessities of wearing a seatbelt, pedestrian/bicycle safety and nighttime safety, it also highlighted the dangers of driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol, with major emphasis on the importance of focusing on the road because many teens try to multi-task.
During this conference they learn the importance of not allowing themselves to be distracted by their passengers, text messages, talking on the phone, or using popular cell phone applications such as Snapchat and Instagram while in control of a motor vehicle. Karen McAllister, a representative of AT&T, pointed out that it is important to teach teens early before their bad habits become second nature.
Brandon Sweat, an attendee and recent graduate of Lakewood High School said that meeting an actual drunk driver made this real for him, especially when it comes to distracted driving: “People will try to do everything while driving, I mean even Snapchat says don’t ‘snap and drive,’” Sweat said.
An attendee from St. Petersburg Collegiate High School, 16- year-old Heaven Taylor-Wynn, affirmed the importance of this workshop: “I’m really going to push the message of not drinking and driving, this presentation that just ended really hit home for me – drinking and driving always seemed like an abstract thing – but now the possibility that this could really happen to me is more tangible. Now I’ll even put my phone in the glove box, in my purse, or in the back seat.”
Each student attending the conference had access to experts in all fields of driving, including representatives from the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida, Emergency/Incident Manager at DBi Services, Traffic Safety Consultants, Driving Academy in Tampa, the Suncoast Safety Council, multiple driving insurance companies and NASCAR.
The teens attended workshops in action and project planning, and on the last day they each did a presentation explaining how they plan on implementing a teen safety program in their own schools and communities.
“Car crashes are the number one killer of teens – more so than disease, suicide, or homicide – it’s scary. Our primary goal here is to educate teens so that they teach each other and can act as role models. That’s why we unite a bunch of different foundations and groups to create a stronger voice,” said Danielle Branciforte, Florida Teen Safe Driving Coalition Leader and Florida SADD State Coordinator.