Teen driving initiative making an impact at Brandywine Community Schools

Published 3:20 pm Wednesday, April 6, 2022

NILES — “Click it or ticket,” said Click-It Cricket.

Strive for a Safer Drive, a teen driving initiative aimed at reducing serious traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities among Michigan teens, visited Merritt Elementary School Monday and Tuesday. Presented by Ford Driving Skills for Life and the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, the S4SD campaign encourages teens to talk to other teens and community members about making safe driving choices.

Brandywine’s S4SD team, composed of Brandywine High School students, developed and implemented a student-led traffic safety awareness campaign focused on distracted driving and speeding. Of the 38 S4SD programs in the state, Brandywine is the only Berrien County school district participating in the program.

The S4SD team, along with Brandywine High School Resource Officer Amber McGaffigan and mascots Click-It Cricket and crash test dummies Vince and Larry, visited classrooms to talk to kids about the importance of buckling up and practicing safe driving habits. The team will give the same presentation to Brandywine Elementary School on Thursday. The team also distributed poster boards in each elementary school classroom. Students will draw and color their car to illustrate what it means to them to be safe in that car. The poster boards will then be taken to local businesses that have agreed to showcase the illustrations in their business, such as Campbell Ford Lincoln.

In March, Strive for a Safer Drive presented students with the opportunity to drive using a driving simulator that allowed them to test the dangers of drunk, drugged and distracted driving.

Participating schools received $1,000 to conduct their campaign, which Brandywine used to purchase t-shirts, banners and gift cards for guest speakers. 

“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” McGaffigan said. “There have been a lot of students who have shared personal stories and experiences.”

Brandywine senior Kyle Welch enjoys being a part of S4SD. The issue of driver safety resonates with Welch, whose late uncle was involved in a fatal car accident years ago.

“It’s a very sensitive subject,” he said. “Every time I drive I’m always looking behind me, because he was rear-ended; he didn’t make it. That’s why I joined; I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”

After graduating from Brandywine this spring, Welch aims to pursue humanitarian work.

“I like making a difference,” he said. “I’m an Eagle Scout, so I do a lot of community service and all that. I just like helping out the community. I like spreading positive messages.”

Once the projects are completed, the team will submit a video or PowerPoint outlining their campaign. Schools with the top-five winning campaigns will receive cash prizes ranging from $500 to $1,500. As part of Ford Fund’s commitment to the campaign, all participating schools will have the opportunity to send students to a free Ford Driving Skills for Life hands-on driving clinic this spring. Professional driving instructors from across the country will teach teens key skills including hazard recognition, speed and space management, and vehicle handling with hands-on instruction. A station highlighting the dangers of distracted and impaired driving also will be taught. 

McGaffigan thanked the Brandywine S4SD students for their hard work and dedication, which has left an impression on the community.

“It’s always good to hear positive feedback from the community,” she said. “The students are putting the work into this and they’re making this program what it is.”