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Snellville teen discusses passion with driving safety

Snellville resident Morgan Polk, a rising junior at Parkview High, is presented a $500 scholarship from Paul Szatkowski, left, and Harris Blackwell. Szatkowski represents the Ford Driving Skills For Life program while Blackwell is the director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. Polk was one of 22 participants on the Governor’s Commission on Teen Driving.

Snellville resident Morgan Polk, a rising junior at Parkview High, is presented a $500 scholarship from Paul Szatkowski, left, and Harris Blackwell. Szatkowski represents the Ford Driving Skills For Life program while Blackwell is the director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. Polk was one of 22 participants on the Governor’s Commission on Teen Driving.

SNELLVILLE — As a rising junior at Parkview High, Morgan Polk is well aware of the distractions teenagers face in a car, especially among friends.

Polk, 16, recently participated in the Governor’s Commission on Teen Driving as one of 22 teenagers from across the state. The Snellville resident learned statistics about distracted driving, such as a car moving at 50 mph can travel the length of a football field in four seconds. The issue hit especially close to home after Polk’s cousin was killed by a distracted driver about a year ago.

The commission included meeting Gov. Nathan Deal and working on a subcommission that held conference calls to propose awareness campaigns for issues related to texting-and-driving. Polk was on a subcommision that focused on texting while driving, but the others were about being distracted while driving and impaired driving.

As a holder of a driver’s permit, Polk said she was surprised to learn that neither the driving knowledge test nor the driver’s manual had a section on texting-and-driving.

So along with teenagers doing community service if they’re cited for distracted driving, Polk’s subcommission recommeded the driver’s test and manual be updated to reflect the texting-and-driving law. The teens also proposed road signs to promote safe driving similar to the “click it or ticket” seat belt campaign.

“This generation, alcohol and driving are still a problem,” Polk said, “but it’s really technology and using our phones while driving.”

Being among teenagers on the commission resonated with Polk, and she said that’s the way the message needs to spread.

“I don’t think it hits home because when adults are talking, it’s easy to tune them out, but if it’s teenagers talking to teenagers you can relate more,” she said. “More likely a teenager will listen to their own peers than another adult, that just sounds like another lecture. If it’s your peers saying texting and driving is not right, put the phone away, they’re more likely to think about it.”

Her father, Charles, agreed.

“Kids, they listen to us, but I think it’s more effective to use teenagers to talk amongst themselves about the great opportunity to reduce the statistics,” said Charles, who recommended his daughter apply to be on the GOHS commission. “You want to prepare your kids for the future and have them educated about what can take place on a road real quickly. The key is educating and bringing awareness of everything that can possibly take place. It’s being responsible.”

Polk’s also worked with the campaign by State Farm insurance called “Celebrate My Drive,” which emphasizes safe choices and driving habits. For her contribution on the GOHS commission, Polk was awarded a $500 scholarship, which came from a $20,000 grant the GOHS received from the Ford Driving Skills For Life program. The program is a joint partnership between Ford and the Governors Highway Safety Association.

And this commission won’t be the last time Polk works on this issue as she said she’s really committed about awareness.

“My message to other teens would be, “If you’re in a car with other teenagers, you should have a designated texter, or someone to change the channel, or put in GPS, so you won’t be the one that causes a crash or kills someone,’” she said.