Long before she turned sixteen years old and earned her learner’s permit in the summer of 2018, junior Esha Shrivastav knew a thing or two about driving – specifically, a lot of statistics about teen drivers, and the major modifications made to Connecticut teen driving laws over the past 10 years.
Her driver’s ed began in July of 2016, when her mother, a programmer for the Wethersfield DMV, told her about a competition held in the late 2000s when the first round of teen driver laws was ratified.
The competition tasked students from nearby public schools to feature all of the new laws and restrictions in a short, collaborative video emphasizing safety and adherence to the laws – and when Esha’s mother heard about it, she quickly encouraged her daughter to revive it.
Soon after, Esha met with the coordinator of Student Activities for the Wethersfield DMV. “He told me what I needed to do, how to get a group of kids together; we put up posters saying we were going to be organizing a teen safe driving video contest,” Esha said, and the rest is history.
Alongside several other high school students from all over Conn., Esha formed the DMV Teen Advisory Group, charged with overseeing the DMV-Travelers Teen Safe Driving Video Contests, creating and advertising a team for each year (for example, 2017’s “Teen Driving: Every Second Counts,” showing the dangers of distracted driving)and working closely with the insurance company Travelers, who fund the competition prizes, and approve their theme proposals.
The Advisory group assembles at the Wethersfield DMV or meet frequently at Travelers headquarters in Hartford with Head of Marketing, who assists them in creating billboard advertisements and mock video presentations to the Travelers board.
“We present a theme with certain conditions: it has to 45 seconds long, present at least two teenage people in the video, have at least one reference to a parental figure, and it has to mention at least one teen driving law,” Esha said.
She and her fellow members of the advisory group judge the videos after a submission period of a couple months, and award prizes, the first prize being $5000, with a majority of the money going to the school, and winning students receiving individual visa cards, Esha said.
There are several categories – Best Parental Figure & Most Humorous Video, to name a few. But the incentive of entering the competition is much more than prize money, Esha explained. This program not only informs viewers, as the videos are posted and circulated online (and a prize is awarded for the video with the most views), or interspersed between TV commercials for a larger audience, but statistics say that the videos also save lives.
“At the end of every year’s contest, we get a sheet of data about teen fatalities and car crashes involving teens in the state, and usually, the trend is that after the contest, [the number of fatalities] goes significantly down–which is a big deal,” Esha said. Last year’s competition resulted in a 60% decrease in teen-involved fatalities, Esha shared.
Esha’s commitment to the initiative stems from her personal conviction of the importance of safe driving practices. “As someone who’s beginning to drive, I’ve been in a lot of situations where people think, ‘Oh, I’ll just look at my phone really quickly; those are just statistics, that won’t happen to me,’ but that could happen at any moment,” she said. “Starting initiatives like these help create awareness.”
Esha shared some of her personal ambitions for the competition this year, specifically in expanding her role in the outreach stage.
“This year I’ve decided to be more involved in promoting the contest. The most number of schools we’ve had involved is 70 across the state; the most students we’ve had is 400 to 500. I want to see this program grow,” she said. The advisory group has plans for a social media campaign this year, so keep your eyes peeled for Esha’s handiwork in advertisements via Instagram and Snapchat.
Hopefully, the awareness spread by this initiative will translate into action, and Connecticut will rise from 50th (according to the 2018 SafeDriving Report) to 1st in the national rank of states by safest drivers. Maybe by the next competition, things will be looking a little safer in the streets of the Connecticut – or at least here in West Hartford.