CHAMPION - It's one thing for an adult, including a law enforcement officer, to talk to teens about the importance of safe driving.
It can have greater impact when the message comes from peers, Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Lauren Merz said.
"Kids have a way of talking to other kids to get their point across in a way that we, as adults, aren't always able to do," Merz said.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Lauren Merz, left, Lt. Brian Holt and Tyler Wolfe, school program adviser, discuss S.M.A.S.H. — Students Making A Safer Highway on Monday at Trumbull Career and Technical Center in Champion.
Last year, Merz suggested developing a program that involves going to schools and asking the students what can be done to better educate them on the dangers of distracted driving.
That program, Students Making a Safer Highway (S.M.A.S.H.), a Trumbull Teen Driver Safety Initiative, was created to engage Trumbull County youth in creating educational opportunities about safe driving.
S.M.A.S.H. is kicking of its second year this week with an initial session Thursday at the Trumbull County Education Service Center in Niles. All high schools in Trumbull County have been invited to participate by sending at least two students from each district.
On Monday, Merz, along with Lt. Brian Holt of the OSHP, Jason Gray, interim superintendent at Trumbull Career and Technical Center, and Tyler Wolfe, a former program participant now serving as an adult adviser, met at TCTC to discuss plans for this year's program.
"The important thing is that it's for kids, by kids," Merz said.
For example, during the 2011-12 school year, students came up with the name, developed the logo and completed their first project - a video about the dangers of unsafe and distracted driving. The video, unveiled in May, features students who are distracted by eating food, texting, drinking pop and using cell phones.
"Last year was the pilot program and we didn't know what to expect," Holt said. "But it was a huge success. It actually surpassed our expectations. Now we have youth from Trumbull County being recognized across Ohio for traffic safety.
''This year we hope to expand it and send the message to every high school junior and senior in Trumbull County about the importance of safe driving."
According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, there are more than 7 million licensed drivers in Ohio. Of those, 7 percent (537,000) are younger than 21. In the U.S. in 2003, there were 38,252 fatal crashes. More than 8,000 of those crashes involved drivers between 15 and 20 years old.
Holt said that although two students from each of the 20 school districts in the county were invited to participate last year, this year the group is being opened to include additional students from each school who want to participate.
This year the students, who will meet monthly, are being asked to complete three projects.
"The goal is to save lives through education and student participation," Wolfe said.
The program is also sponsored by Trumbull County 4-H, TCTC interactive multi-media class and Trumbull County Safe Communities.