Three Glenlyon Norfolk students are on a mission to prevent distracted driving.
The Grade 5 students were tasked with tackling a project exploring issues affecting their communities – and distracted drivers are squarely in their cross hairs.
“In 2011, 47,000 people were ticketed for distracted driving and the following year 51,000 were ticketed, so every year it has been jumping up,” said 10-year-old Kristjan Shoemaker. “We need to take action in our community in order to make it safe and make sure nothing bad happens.”
Shoemaker and two classmates Giulia Giommi and Grace Poole, staked out Oak Bay Avenue with Oak Bay Police on a fact-finding mission, tabulating the distracted drivers they spied over the course of two, one-hour studies. What the students learned stunned them.
“I found that (on average) six people an hour drive distracted. We saw four on their cell phones and two texting – and that kind of amazed me because police were standing right there,” he said. “Some on the phone didn’t even notice the police because they were so focused on their phones – that kind of blew my mind.”
For the project, the students divided into 12 groups made up of three to four people. Each group chose from an array of different issues including distracted driving, homelessness, ocean acidification, pollution and others to study.
Teacher Leanne Giommi said connecting with the community on issues that affect kids locally and globally was an important piece to take with them as the students in their last year at GNS move on to middle and high school.
“I think it gives (students) an opportunity to be responsible and demonstrate understanding of something that is important in our world,” she said. “The idea is, if it is worth learning, you should do something about it. There is an action component to the exhibition.”
Constable Rick Anthony of the Oak Bay Police took part in the field study with the three students and said he was quietly impressed by the initiative, a movement he hopes pays off down the road.
“I think it’s them that will make the change, the shift in culture, the belief it is not okay to do this. People who do it now have done it so long they are not about to break the cycle,” he said. “It has been determined that distracted driving or driving on a cell phone can be more dangerous than driving impaired. … If they can precipitate change now that will pay off five to 10 years from now.”
Students presented their findings at a school exhibition at the end of April and Giulia Giommi, Leanne’s daughter, said she will continue to push for change considering the number of fatalities and damage distracted drivers cause every year.
“I (think) the law should be changed to $250 for a fine (from $167) and police should have the power to impound people’s cars,” she said. “I think people should know how dangerous distracted driving is and how many people get killed just because of that.”
Shoemaker is excited about the information he learned and hopes to continue to spread the word and education everywhere he can, both for himself and others.
“Many people, if you tell them you see six drunk drivers in an hour they say, ‘wow why is that so bad,’” he said. “(Why is it not) so bad that distracted driving is happening? This is crazy, I don’t think they should be doing that.”