Club raises awareness of distracted, reckless driving

After Wilton High School senior Annika Sheehan’s sister, Lindsay, was involved in a rollover car accident four years ago, the two decided  they wanted to help prevent others from being in the same situation.

“Lindsay was a freshman in high school [and] the senior was driving distractedly and recklessly. She had to crawl out of a broken window and had to have stitches in her back to stop the bleeding from the broken glass,” said Annika.

“It was the most frightening experience in my sister’s and my family’s life. My sister and my mom had nightmares for months.”

After the accident, Annika and Lindsay, who is now a freshman at Wake Forest University, decided to turn the negative incident into a positive one by forming WISE — “Wilton I-drive Safely Everytime,” a club at Wilton High School that raises awareness about the dangers of reckless and distracted driving.

“As Lindsay and I researched, we learned that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers,” said Annika.

“We learned that our youngest and most inexperienced drivers are most at risk, with 16% of all distracted driving crashes involving drivers under 20.”

Annika said these statistics, coupled with an incident in Griswold where four teenagers died in a reckless-driving accident, highlighted that “teenage fatalities from distracted and reckless driving are too high and that we could be an agent for change.”

The sisters wrote a proposal, found an adviser, gathered the required number of student signatures, and received school administrative approval before WISE officially became a club approximately 18 months ago.

“Our first initiative was to draft an all-encompassing pledge that drivers sign to be responsible behind the wheel and as a passenger,” said Annika, who said the WISE Driving Agreement addresses the following areas:

  • Staying focused while driving — not texting.
  • Obeying the rules of the road.
  • Respecting drug and alcohol laws or finding a designated driver.
  • Adjusting stereo, electronic devices, air conditioning, and heat only when it’s safe to do so.
  • Not driving in unsafe weather conditions.

Annika said the best way to fight distracted and reckless driving is to educate all current and future drivers about the terrible consequences of driving irresponsibly.

“Some people don’t know how dangerous distracted driving is. Others know about the risks but still choose to do so anyway. They make the mistake of thinking that the statistics don’t apply to them or that they can defy the odds,” she said.

“Our goal is to make each and every individual honor their civic duty to drive safely.”

To help keep the club’s mission visibly present, Annika said, car magnets with “the prominent WISE logo” — designed by children’s book author and illustrator Steve Light — are distributed during town events.

Events and activities

The club has been involved in a number of community events, including one at Trackside Teen Center, where One Second to the Next, a documentary about the aftermath of texting and driving, was shown and safety experts like Wilton EMS and police officers discussed their experiences with distracted driving.

“The most poignant part of the program was presentations by victims of distracted and reckless driving,” said Annika. “There was a simulator similar to the drunk goggles which shows participants what actually occurs when one drives distracted.”

In April, also known as National Distracted Driving Awareness Month, the WISE club set up a table outside the Village Market, where more than 200 people signed the WISE Driving Agreement, said Annika.

This month, club representatives attended the kickoff of the Seven Green Team’s Power of One unit at Middlebrook School, where they discussed WISE’s mission and “highlighted how each and every one of us can make a difference in the world if we champion a cause,” said Annika.

“We discussed what they could do now individually as passengers in a car to promote safe driving,” she said. “The funniest change that they agreed to make was to stop fighting with their siblings in the car so that their parents could better focus on the task of driving.”

Annika said she was impressed by how many of the seventh graders knew about the dangers of distracted driving from awareness campaigns they had seen on television.

“Texting is getting a lot of attention, as it is the most alarming distraction. However, it is not the only dangerous driving distraction,” said Annika.

“It is important to spread the word about WISE to these younger students, as they will be drivers within the next few years. Plus, we want them to be aware of the club and carry on its mission once they get to high school.”

Annika said WISE will sponsor another pledge drive in the spring at the high school, “since many sophomores will be getting their licenses,” and will hold another drive at the Village Market in April.

Although there are currently more than 75 members of WISE, Annika said, she would like to “expand the club’s participation and develop future leaders [since] last year’s and this year’s board is composed of all seniors.”

Annika said she would like WISE to form a partnership with Safe Rides, of which she is a member, to “collaborate on ways that we can bring greater safe driving awareness together.”

She also said a long-term goal is to have an assembly at the high school, similar to the one held at Trackside.

“The club has limitless possibilities that any passionate or committed individual could bring to fruition,” said Annika. “My sister and I are really proud of the organization and would love to see it grow.”

To learn more about WISE, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/WiltonIdriveSafelyEverytime.