By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item
MILTON — Beginning in the fall, middle school students across the Valley will be learning important lessons about how to stay alert and focused when on the road.
Donna Bridge, president and chief executive officer of Kingdom Kidz, said the program, ”Steer Clear of Distracted Driving,” is a collaboration between Kingdom Kidz and the Lawton Insurance Agency in Milton. It aims to reach young people as they prepare for driving lessons and being passengers in friends’ cars.
“If we get the students before they begin driving, they’ll become more aware of these things as they head into driving lessons,” Bridge said. “And not only will they be driving, but they are passengers and passengers can be distractions.”
The interactive program will launch in the fall and have several elements, including a puppet program and a question-and-answer panel featuring an insurance agent, a community police officer and a parent or sibling of a teen who has been killed or seriously injured by distracted driving, Bridge said.
The idea for the program came after Bridge met Steve Everitt, an agent with Lawton Insurance, at a recent business networking event, Bridge said.
Distracted driving is a huge problem for drivers of all ages, but particularly teens, Everitt said.
“I don’t think we’re focused enough on it,” he said. “We see it as an insurance agency, and it is a real problem.”
In 2011, 3,331 people nationwide were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Texting, using a cell phone, eating and drinking, grooming and adjusting the radio are among activities that can distract drivers.
About 11 percent of all teen fatalities are related to distracted driving, the highest percentage of any age group, according to NHTSA data.
In Union, Snyder, Montour and Northumberland counties, about 11 percent of all crashes from 2007 to 2011 — the most recent data available — were related to distracted driving, according to state Department of Transportation data.
“It only takes a second taking your eyes off the road,” Everitt said. “And cell phones are probably the worst offender.”
Bridge said the program aims to not only educate young drivers about the dangers of distracted driving but help them recognize and combat distracted driving in others.
The success of lessons imparted in Kingdom Kidz programs makes Bridge confident the program will reach children and make a difference.
“You would not believe how many parents have come to us and said, ‘You know, a song or something that you said, our children are telling us about it,’” she said. “‘Sesame Street’ did an excellent job to show how education and puppetry go hand in hand.”
If the program can impact just one young person, it will be worth it, Bridge said.
“If we can save one life, it’s worth it,” she said.
Kingdom Kidz programs are in 29 schools in Northumberland, Lycoming, Snyder and Montour counties, Bridge said.
The program, which will be rolled out over three years in each school, is looking for sponsors. Interested individuals or businesses may call Bridge at 742-0379 or visit the website at www.hiskingdomkidz.org.