NORFOLK, VA — September 6, 2023: Norfolk-based personal injury law firm Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers has awarded $10,000 in scholarships to students who suggested innovative ways of tackling the scourge of distracted driving.
Six students who submitted essays to the firm’s Focused Driver Scholarship program won awards for their studies. The law firm named five winners from Hampton Roads and one national winner.
The students were asked to address one of the most pressing dangers to teens on the roads of America today—distracted driving. Distracted drivers kill nine people every day in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Typically, a higher percentage of drivers aged 15 to 20 are distracted than drivers aged 21 and older.
Distracted driving caused 117 deaths in Virginia in 2021, according to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles. Although the figure was a 3% decrease over 2020, the number of people injured due to distracted driving rose by 9% to 11,297. Although teen drivers regularly lose their lives due to texting or talking to passengers, the highest rate of deaths and injuries caused by distractions is among the 21 to 25 age group.
Legacy Watkins from Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach was one of the local winners of a $2,000 scholarship. Legacy will be attending James Madison University as an Architectural Design major and hopes to one day run her own architectural practice.
Legacy advocated the silencing of smartphones while driving. “Most devices come equipped with the ability to silence notifications. Utilize this feature and reserve phone use for emergencies only,” she wrote in her essay.
“While passengers can be a distraction in themselves, enlist in their help to do what you cannot. Additionally, do not underestimate the power of pulling over. Find a safe spot along the road and complete your task before resuming your drive,” she wrote.
Lily Schutte, who attended Princess Anne High School in Virginia Beach, proposed cars be fitted with lock boxes for mobile devices. She secured a $2,000 scholarship.
“I propose a special type of lock box that allows the driver to access their phone in an absolute emergency, but remains locked so texts, calls, and other activities can not be done,” Lily wrote.
“The box will be clear, linked to the air vent so the phone can be used for navigation, and only operated by voice controls in a crisis. With this kind of box, a driver can use their phone for GPS, but not be able to access its apps.”
Lily will be attending Virginia Tech as a freshman this coming fall and wants to become a middle school history teacher.
Matthew Fox won $2,000 for an essay that described how he had been involved in a car crash and later developed a passion for researching distracted driving. “The passion sparked after being involved in a car accident when I was young; luckily, no physical harm was done to my mother and myself,” he wrote.
Matthew conducted research into the effect of noise stimulation on driving habits as a student.
“During a school research assignment, I chose to investigate the impact of auditory stimuli on an individual’s reaction time,” he wrote, “The basis of the investigation was to understand whether an individual can be more or less focused on a specific task when listening to auditory stimuli.
“My study would mimic driving in a car and test whether listening to music like pop would make a driver more focused on the road and quicker when reacting to dangers on the road.”
He referenced a study by William Consiglio on the influences of cellular conversations on reaction times. While reaction times were lowered while drivers were in conversation, they were affected less by music. However, Fox’s research suggested reaction times of drivers who are listening to heavy rock music are slightly longer than those who listen to softer pop or an NPR podcast.
Matthew will be leaving behind the Virginia Beach oceanfront and his part-time job at Jungle Golf in Virginia Beach to study at the University of Lynchburg in the fall.
Maggie Bowen and Michael Bowen from Western Branch High School in Chesapeake won scholarships of $1,000 each. Michael will be attending Shenandoah University in the fall and Maggie is bound for Christopher Newport University in Newport News.
The national winner was Alex Chau, a student studying civil engineering at San Diego State University in California. Chau won a $2,000 scholarship toward his civil engineering degree. “I am always interested in living an active lifestyle outside of school, such as cycling and going hiking. I also enjoy volunteering throughout my local community and exploring new places around San Diego,” he wrote.
Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers launched its Distracted Driving Awareness scholarship (now the Focused Driving Scholarship Program) in 2017. It was intended to raise awareness of an issue that claims young lives every year in Virginia and leaves many more teens with serious injuries. Every year the law firm supports young people in the Hampton Roads area through its Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers Cares initiative.