Put Down the Phone

What would it take to get you to put down the phone while driving? At the Harborview Injury Research and Prevention Center (HIPRC), a group of high-school students used the summer to figure that out.

“Texting while driving or driving distracted doesn’t only affect you, it affects everyone else,” says Melat Feseha, a junior at the Northwest School in Seattle.

Over several weeks this summer, Feseha and her colleagues have been collecting and analyzing data, developing marketing strategies and creating public-safety videos on distracted driving. It’s a timely issue: under a new Washington state law that took effect on July 23, 2017, any interaction with a handheld phone while driving can result in a ticket — and a report to your insurance company.

The students are part of HIPRC’s INSIGHT Research Program, which offers an intensive, eight-week summer internship for undergraduate and graduate students, and a four-week program for high-school students. Now in its second year, INSIGHT offers students exposure to healthcare professionals, the chance to apply their research, and an introduction to medical and public health.

The program has Feseha thinking about career opportunities. “We went on a tour of the bioengineering lab, and that got me really interested, because it seems like a great opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in math and science,” she says.

Beth Ebel, M.D., M.Sc., MPH, a UW professor in pediatrics and an adjunct professor in epidemiology and health services, is HIPRC’s Safe and Active Transport section lead and served as the faculty mentor for the high-school program. This year’s distracted driving theme is an issue that’s close to her heart; Ebel has testified before the Washington State Legislature about her research on distracted driving.

“My job at the trauma center is a powerful motivator for what I do in public health,” says Ebel. “You see how much an injury impacts someone’s life — not just that person, but the parents, the siblings, the driver. It reminds you how important safe driving is and that we need to keep working to do better.”

This year’s program was sponsored by PEMCO Insurance. “PEMCO has been particularly interested because their focus is on young people, on education and on safety, so the INSIGHT program sits at the heart of those three goals,” said Ebel.

In their final week, the student teams were busy finalizing their shooting schedules, designing campaign posters and preparing to present their videos at a student symposium.

“We wanted to target the community, to make some sort of connection there,” says Feseha.

Abdul Baig, 18, is entering the University of Washington as a freshman this fall. He already knows he wants to major in pre-med, and he hopes that INSIGHT’s messages about distracted driving will resonate with his peers.

“I feel like teenagers will be more likely to listen to our campaign voice because we relate with them,” he says.

Accelerate Safety

Through a gift to the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Fund. If you’d like to support HIPRC’s distracted driving program, please indicate that in the comments section.

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