This Fall, we received an incredible amount of high quality essays for our Fall Scholarship program. As always, we love to share some of the great work Florida students are capable of producing with you! The second place winner of this past semester’s scholarship award was Justin Kelleher. He wrote the following essay for the Fall 2019 Scholarship hosted by the Brooks Law Group.

Justin’s Background

I am applying for the Brooks Law Group scholarship in order to help support my post-secondary education. I am currently a senior at Olympia high school in Orlando, Florida.  I am hoping to attend either Florida Southern College in Lakeland or the University of Florida in Gainesville. My undergraduate studies will be in business and biology. I intend to pursue my doctorate in Physical Therapy.

I take my education very seriously and have a 4.0 grade point average (5.25 weighted GPA). I am a member of several National Honor Societies and have been a member of my school’s Student Government Association. I volunteered at Health Central Hospital in Ocoee in the lab donating about 90 hours of my time to this interest. In addition, I am a member of the track and field team where I am a pole vaulter.  Last year, I made it to the state championship competition in Jacksonville. I have also volunteered for notable organizations such as Special Olympics, Give Kids the World, Second Harvest Food Bank and many other worthwhile and rewarding causes.

I have worked at Papa Murphy’s Pizza to gain valuable experience as well as to save money for my college education. I also spent time job-shadowing a chiropractor at Quantumcare to learn more about the day-to-day operations of a medical office as I hope to open a practice of my own one day.

Justin’s Essay

Like radios, years ago, texting is the latest technology effecting teenage driving today. It is encouraging to see Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, taking a stronger stance on texting while driving in the new law effective January 1, 2020, however, I believe the reason the rates of distraction continue to increase is the ramifications do not go far enough. We need stricter regulations and increased education to better control the situation and protect people. For one thing, as stated in the Brooks Law Firm Article from May 1, 2019, “You can still use your phone at red lights or in traffic. Using your phone while stationary is not banned by the bill. This is unchanged from the current law about texting while driving. As long as your vehicle is stationary at the time, you cannot be cited for using your cellphone behind the wheel”. In my opinion, this allows abuse of the intent of the law.

I believe texting while driving continues to increase despite current laws because the smart phone and its applications are designed to entice the user and subconsciously encourage them to constantly be using them and their immersive features. The notifications and sounds that accompany these applications take away from the concentration needed to drive responsibly and stay aware of the surroundings. As notifications pop up, they divert the driver’s attention and cause them to continuously think more about their social life than what they are supposed to be doing. This results in a constant desire to answer or respond to the message. More than one in three teens admits to taking their eyes off the road when app notifications come in while driving ( Having a phone available to use while in the car is an unremitting distraction to anybody that has one.

Social media is of utmost importance to teenagers. Applications such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are the most popular apps used while driving. Teens continue to actively stay engaged regardless of the responsibility at hand. They find a need to respond immediately to stay in touch.  The current culture of adolescence is to have quick responses to a constant stream of messages and information. They want to stay in loop and not miss out on opportunities to communicate with friends. This encourages harmful behavior and causes them to focus more on their self-image and social life rather than their safety. “Today’s hyper-connected teens “fear of missing out” can put young drivers at risk on the road, as they may be more plugged into the devices than the actual driving task,” said scientist at the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety.

I believe ongoing education is a big part of the solution. New drivers are required to watch educational videos in order to get their license but may never be exposed to that impactful visual information again.  Unfortunately, this experience does not have a lasting impact and as time goes on, it becomes less of a priority. Also, parents play a major role in both educating and controlling the actions of their children. There are many ways to lock applications or the entire phone while driving. Parents need to utilize these resources to help keep their teenagers safe while thinking about the safety of others as well. I would even take it a step further to say that in a perfect world, cars would deactivate certain phone features so they can’t be utilized while the car is in drive.

Some insurance companies are using monitoring devices that track driving habits. This is a way to both reward safe driving and properly price the risk. More programs like this would encourage teens, whose insurance is the most expensive, to maintain safe driving habits. It would be great if schools could partner with insurance companies and other stakeholders to deliver programs to schools to help keep this important initiative in the forefront of teenagers’ minds. If teenagers understand and respond to these programs, they will mature as safe drivers.The key is getting the message and risks to the most impacted and impressionable group of individuals as early as possible.

To reiterate, texting while driving is an epidemic that negatively affects too many people, not only drivers but also those around them. A parent setting a good example, continued education and tighter regulation is the key to reducing the dangers associated with texting while driving.


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