Summer of 2019 is history. The fall session is in full swing at schools. A new hands-free law is active in Minnesota.

Troopers from the state patrol are much better equipped to enforce the law.

Hopefully, the hands-free law will lead to lower cell phone-inspired distracted driving episodes. It surely did take away the self-proclaimed right of drivers to use cell phones as socialization/entertainment tools. Granted that only a thorough analysis of long-term crash facts published by the state will determine the law’s impact on traffic injuries and fatalities.

But I personally do not want to wait for the above findings to appear. I would rather proactively act, now. I know it will save lives. I am more interested in finding out what we as a community must do at the grassroots. It is a call to action.

An example of grassroots success is the Shreya Foundation’s (shreyadixit.org) teen-led Distraction-free Life Club (DfLC) at Eden Prairie High School, which is in its fourth year. These high-energy teens have been spreading the message of distraction-free driving through peer-to-peer influence. Over the 2019 summer break, 20 DfLC teens sought to broaden their reach beyond the high school. With elementary school kids as the potential target audience, they approached and received support from the Eden Prairie Community Education Department on a pilot project called Drivers-In-Making. For the program, they created a skit and several props and executed the pilot on Aug. 14 at Oak Park Elementary, helping 6- to 9-year-old kids learn about distracted driving. At the end of the two-hour session, they asked the young kids to capture their learning into sketches using crayons.

The DfLC is now at work, creatively using those kid creations for the Foundation’s 2020 wall calendar. The sketches will allow the DfLC team to design each page with a compelling message about distracted driving and its long-term impact on the whole community. The calendar will be available for the holidays as a most appropriate stocking stuffer.

Encouraged by the success of the above pilot, the Eden Prairie Community Education chose to incorporate the Drivers-In-Making program into their fall EPIC Youth Program.

Again, it will be the DfLC team coaching young kids. The innovatively designed interactive session will train young kids to watch out for distractions occurring not only in the car they ride, but also in vehicles passing by them. The program will also deploy gamification techniques, mentoring kids on how to respectfully question inappropriate driving behavior when they see one. The goal is to build a solid foundation for raising a future distraction-free driver. Each kid will take home an esteem-building artifact that will help them spread the word about distraction-free driving.

Dear parents, please consider sending your young elementary age kid to the program. You will be happy that you did.

This research-based program is the work of Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation (shreyadixit.org) in collaboration with the University of Minnesota. The first session will take place on Nov. 16 at the Oak Point Elementary in Eden Prairie. Check for details at edenpr.org/epcommunityed.

Please write to Vijay Dixit of the Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation at vijay@shreyadixit.org. His phone number is 612-759-3384.

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