Distracted driving can be blamed for several lives lost this year in Loudoun County. The death of a 5-month-old Lansdowne boy in a stroller prompted the most outrage.
In response, a group of high school kids are teaming up with a state legislator to deliver a safety message to people right when they need the reminder most—when they’re behind the wheel. The idea is to create a license plate with a message that reminds drivers to stay off their phones when they’re on the road.
Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason (R-32) said, following the string of “horrific accidents caused by distracted driving,” he and a few of his colleagues in the General Assembly got to talking about what might be done to stop people from texting while driving.
“We could sit and create legislation, increase penalties, make it very difficult for you and ruin your life if you do this,” he said. “But it’s too late at that point. We haven’t saved anybody.”
He pitched the idea of creating a license plate with some sort of awareness message during the Loudoun County School Board’s Legislative Breakfast on Friday. Addressing the eight student School Board representatives in attendance, he said, “What if we held a contest at all the high schools in Loudoun and you guys determined what the license plate would say?”
Carder Saul, a Tuscarora High School senior, said he and his friends who are just starting to drive are constantly berated with messages from adults about not texting while driving. “But it’s not involving us. If we make this a community-based activity and allow the students to get involved, we might get some creative outcomes.”
He gave the example of a license plate that offered the blunt message, “Don’t text and drive, stupid,” might just draw some attention. “They might think, that’s right, I am being stupid. I should put my phone down,” Saul said.
Darius Fraser, a Loudoun Valley High School senior, said he liked the idea of focusing on prevention rather than punishment and convictions. “Because at the end of the day, the penalty of taking a life is penalty enough. Instead, build a culture of safe driving. I think that’s an excellent idea.”
Potomac Falls High School senior Mackenzie Dorsey agreed, saying, “A big problem with students today is apathy. I don’t think laws scare them enough to stop them from going on Instagram or Snapchat while driving.”
Greason met with several of the students after the Legislative Breakfast and said they’re eager to get started. The plan is to hold a contest at each of the county’s 15 high schools and, from there, the winning designs from each of the schools will compete for the final prize, the chance to be on thousands of bumpers in Virginia.
The Ashburn legislator is working with Del. Richard L. Anderson (R-51), of Prince William County, and Del. Ronald A. Villanueva (R-21), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, to draft a bill for the 2017 General Assembly, which begins next month.
Greason, whose son is a senior at Stone Bridge High School, told the students that a safety message from teens will go further than any law or infomercial. “Raise your hand and help us implement this,” he challenged the students. “Because you guys are the ones we’re most worried about and you guys are the ones we need to protect most.”
Greason championed another cause using state tags two years ago when he got approval for a “Cure Childhood Cancer” license plate option for Virginia drivers. The plate came at the request of Team Mathias, an organization created by Mathias Giordano, a 13-year-old Loudoun boy who died in 2014 from Osteosarcoma.