Katie Sullivan, advisor of the Londonderry High School “Pay It Forward” Group, was surprised when she received a call from the Department of Transportation asking if her organization was interested in participating in a new program that DOT had started, New Hampshire Driving Toward Zero Deaths.
The New Hampshire Driving Toward Zero Deaths Coalition is a collaborative effort of 20 different organizations both public and private entities, whose mission is to create a culture of safety on New Hampshire roadways. Throughout the state and the country, concern is being felt that drivers of all ages are easily distracted, whether by the radio, cell phones, drinking a coffee, or just talking. The vision of the Coalition is to reduce the number of fatal and severe injury crashes on New Hampshire roadways to zero through the implementation of education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency management solutions.
Sullivan was pleased that the Pay It Forward group was one of the first high school organizations contacted by the organization. Pay It Forward started two years ago when several students volunteered to help stage the “Bras Across the River” event in Manchester. Last year the group participated in over 50 events. This year the group has 22 members with many additional students on call to help when a large event is planned.
“We try to keep the group at a small number because the goal is to get all of the kids to the events. If we get to big the kids won’t be able to experience everything together and that is what the unique gift of the pay it forward club is”, said Sullivan.
Pay It Forward went for training in the state’s new distracted driving program a few weeks ago. Throughout the day, the message was the same: the goal was to reduce the number of deaths on New Hampshire roadways to ZERO. “The object was to get teens promoting the message to other teens around the state,” Sullivan explained. They watch videos of families that had suffered losses through distracted driving. They played a computer game that shows how texting effects your driving. They also participate in a simulated goggles demonstration how you react and behave when driving while impaired.
“Already the State has reported over 80 deaths on New Hampshire roadways,” said Troy Ward, an LHS senior and a member of the club. “The organization is not trying to pass laws or take away ‘Live Free or Die.’ They just want people to be aware of how important it is to wear your seatbelt and not be distracted while driving.”
Ward added, “I think how we do things that we can stick to and how we help other groups is great.” The group receives 3 or 4 emails request weekly to participate and volunteer at events. When they are booked Sullivan forwards the request to the Community Service group at the High School.
Sullivan was moved as she watched the videos, “as an adult in the room it was an excellent training, it made me think about my own driving habits.”
With their training complete Driving Toward ZERO asked the Pay-It-Forward group to host events to hand out flyers and other materials, watch and ask students and adults to buckle up, and anything else they could do. The students have now become the ambassador of the program and are assisting by creating PSAs on school channel and getting the word out at football games and local town events.