Project Ignition Students Share Youth Perspective in Washington D.C.

On Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, student representatives from 10 Project Ignition National Leader Schools spent the day at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in Washington, D.C., to share how they and their classmates are positively impacting teen driver safety in their communities.

Project Ignition, coordinated by the National Youth Leadership Council® and funded by State Farm®, is a teen driver safety grant program that challenges youth and schools to address the issue of teen driver safety using service-learning. 

During the event, students shadowed DOT employees to better understand the national role of the DOT in public safety, met with leadership from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and participated in a special reception with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. At this reception, students joined their school advisors and key legislative leaders to inform each other  how schools and youth can play a vital role in addressing teen driver safety and other community needs through service-learning. 

During the reception LaHood commented, “You cannot drive safely with a phone next to your ear. You cannot drive safely texting …What I really believe is that you can convince your peers.”

Project Ignition students agree. “We usually only hear about the negative peer pressure to do drugs, or to drink. But there’s also positive peer pressure — I think that’s what we do with Project Ignition,” said Nicole St. Onge, a high school student representing Project Ignition in Hoosick Falls Central School, New York. “There are so many younger kids that look up to us and say, ‘I want to be like them.’ If they see us putting our cell phones away or turning around to say ‘Hey, can you buckle up please’ they are more likely to follow in those footsteps.”

Students were at the center of the evening reception, engaging the audience and asserting their leadership and knowledge on the issue of teen driver safety. “The youth presentations given to the audience, which represented several congressional offices, federal offices, State Farm, NYLC, and other national leaders in education, youth leadership, and road safety, were well-received. They made it clear that youth have the capacity and the interest to share the responsibility of engaging young people in this issue and ultimately saving lives,” said Michael VanKeulen, NYLC’s interim outreach director.

“This was a very unique and special opportunity to have the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood find time to join and honor the work of these students and Project Ignition.  He clearly was grateful to have youth as partners to address distracted driving, what he calls an ‘epidemic’ in our nation. He asked that they please continue their work and that organizations like State Farm remain confident that youth are an important part of the solution,” said VanKeulen.

To continue their work, Hope Miller, a student representing Project Ignition in London High School, Ohio, explained what young people need: “The only thing I need from you, as adults, is your support.”


View photos from the event on NYLC's Flickr account.

Project Ignition Tier 2 students pose with Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.