I had the pleasure recently of giving two EndDD.org (End Distracted Driving) presentations in my community at Paradise Honors High School in Surprise, AZ. I volunteered because it seemed important and a good cause. I thought, let’s make our streets safer. But, I will continue giving the presentation not only because it is important and a good cause but also, fun.
As a person in my early 30s, I understand the temptations of distracted driving. Like anyone else, I have felt, and succumbed to, the pressures of checking my phone, changing radio stations, looking in the rear-view mirror while talking to my step-son in the back seat, eating and even, texting while driving. And, as an attorney, I saw firsthand the devastating consequences of distracted driving as I helped clients put their lives back together and in some cases, deal with the loss of a loved one.
Most importantly, though, I have a five year old at home. It’s essential for his safety not only that his parents drive distraction-free but, that others also do so, ensuring that the future of our roads is a safe one for him. With these notions in mind, I decided to speak to the Paradise High students.
Now that I’ve done two presentations, I have more reasons to keep doing them. The presentation is well put together, and is done in a way that keeps the students’ attention. I spoke to two groups, each of about 150 students; clearly, not an easy audience to keep “captive.” But, as I looked around the room – during the videos, during the informative slides, and even (surprisingly) when I was speaking, I had the whole room’s attention.
It was better than attention, though. I had interaction. The students asked questions. They gave examples. They related to the topics. They laughed at the funny parts and were visibly moved by the reality of others. Simply put, they were engaged. They saw the problem, and you could see it in their eyes and hear it in their questions – they believed they could help solve it.
For me, that was fun. Some will assume I had fun because I had a room full of people listening to me talk. Maybe. But more than that, I had fun because I was making a difference. I had fun because the students were having fun. They were getting it. They wanted to help.
When the presentations ended, the conversations didn’t. Multiple students came up with questions after the fact. The coolest part about the questions to me was that they weren’t about statistics. They were “how” questions. It was, “Do you have a couple of good ways that I can suggest to my mom that she doesn’t text and drive?” “What should I do if my friend pushes back when I ask them to stop?” “How long will it take me to feel comfortable not checking my phone at stop lights?” The questions suggested to me that – at least at that moment – the students wanted to make a change.
Also, the wristbands. I didn’t know what to expect with those. I showed up with a ton, and wouldn’t have been surprised if I had left with the same amount. But they were a hit. Maybe it was because of the cause. Maybe it was because pink is a cool color and everyone wanted to wear them. But, either way, that will keep the conversations going.
In addition, I heard from the principal after the presentations. The school wants me to come back annually and to also talk to the parents. The students loved it and the teachers saw the use for adults. This reaction is a tangible result.
I’m not fooling myself into thinking that everyone who left the presentation is now committed to the cause and is ready to make big changes. I know some of them left with good intentions, but won’t carry them out right away. Others probably don’t have any plans to make changes. But, I am convinced that when that many people seem so into it, at least change will happen with a few.
And that’s what we’re looking for at this point – at least a few. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”. Well, distracted driving won’t end in a day either. But if we keep creating ripples, it will get there. If we keep engaging entire rooms, the numbers will grow. That is the fun part to me – seeing this thing through and making a difference one room at a time. Creating ripples that turn into a wave, and helping the next generation be the one that makes our streets safer.
*Nick Verderame is an associate at the Phoenix-based law firm of Plattner Verderame, P.C.