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Social Media Stars in Teen Distracted Driving Campaign

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Students from Fairfax County public high schools created marketing plans for a campaign to help reduce the number of students who text or talk while driving in construction zones.

January 7, 2011 -- On the Capital Beltway — the third most congested highway in the United States — about 210,000 drivers navigate daily around the largest highway construction project in the nation: The 14-mile-long Virginia HOT Lanes project corridor.

“You have these orange cones everywhere, and it’s very distracting," said Jeff McFarland, Academy administrator at George C. Marshall in Falls Church, Va. "You really have to pay attention.”

Add that distraction to the increasingly higher rates of texting while driving, as detailed by a 2010 report from Transurban-Fluor and AAA Mid-Atlantic, and drivers on the Capital Beltway are more distracted than the average driver.

And the texting distraction is a big one: Between 2009 and 2010, the number of drivers who read texts jumped by 47 percent, from 31,500 to 46,200*. Drivers who write texts has also increased, even though Virginia law prohibits texting while driving and bans cell phone use for drivers under age 18.

That's where the "Orange Cones. No Phones" campaign — launched in 2009 by Transurban-Fluor (which partnered with the Virginia Transportation Department on the HOT Lanes project), AAA Mid-Atlantic and other partners to reduce distracted driving — comes in.

Through the 2010 High School Safety Challenge, students from Fairfax County public high schools created marketing plans for the "Orange Cones. No Phones" campaign to help reduce the number of county students who text or talk while driving in construction zones. 

Now the winning students from George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church are putting their campaign into action with the $5,000 prize they earned. And they're using sites including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread their message.
“We know that our students are savvy users of technology," said Principal Jay Pearson, "so who better than students to reach out to the community and say, ‘Hey, listen, is a glance worth a chance?’

After conducting market research, the team found that three-quarters of the seventh-period classes they surveyed logged onto a social media network at least once a day. Facebook came out on top, and Twitter came in second. 

Because so many students access these sites, seniors Christine Greve, Jenny Felter and Ritika Jain decided to make social media a major part of their outreach.

“It’s just a great way to keep in touch with people and promote it and make sure that everyone sees it,” senior Christine Greve said. 

In entrepreneurship classes, the students have been creating business plans, digital advertising and surveys. And that's exactly what they're doing in their campaign.

“It was a really cool competition because it allowed us to apply our knowledge that we learned in school,” Felter said.

They're working with Transurban-Fleur, ad agencies and local businesses to spread their message.

“The internship and working with actual companies is such a huge opportunity," Jain said. "We are really grateful to have gone this far and be able to implement a plan like this.”

The plan includes spreading the "Is a glance worth a chance?" message on Facebook and Twitter. On those sites, they'll also promote a YouTube video competition that asks groups of students to create promotions of the "Orange Cones. No Phones campaign" by a March deadline. The team will use the videos with the most views on YouTube to continue spreading the message.

During Spirit Week, they'll also organize school activities to raise student awareness about distracted driving.

“When you’re put in a situation to work with corporations or advertising agencies in this manner, it really does force the students to take a risk, to step up to the project, and engage in a very different level from reading a textbook or taking a test,” said Jen Hendrickson, entrepreneurship teacher and DECA adviser.

Throughout the planning process, the students developed a solution to this real world problem. They  talked with peers and ad agencies, collected data in Excel and surveyed students through Survey Monkey. They researched online, used social media and developed a budget. And they used visual aids, wrote a script for the presentation to the judging committee and communicated their plans to the committee. 

The seniors developed skills and knowledge that they leveraged into a great product, McFarland said. Those skills include researching online, developing a budget, analyzing survey data and presenting their plan to a committee.

And that's what they'll be asked to do once they graduate college.

“They took everything that we’ve been teaching them in a number of classes," McFarland said, "and they were able to really put this program together, and they did a tremendous amount of work.”


 *Survey information from the 2010 report "Distracted Driving on the Capital Beltway."
Online survey executed September 13-17, 2010, of 1,013 greater Washington, D.C.-area residents who indicated they drive on the Virginia side of the Capital Beltway with some frequency each month. Margin of error: +/- 3.07% at a 95% confidence level.

The sample was created using an outbound balanced design accurately reflecting all adults in the greater Washington, D.C. area based on U.S.Census figures.

Source: Converge

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