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Hanover student brings awareness to distracted driving

South Western high-school student Leah Collins created the winning billboard design, which is displayed along Route 94 South, just north of Hanover, in the "No Excuses: Youth Traffic Safety Billboard Contest," sponsored by the Center for Traffic Safety, Thursday, April 18, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

A student from South Western High School was named winner of the Center for Traffic Safety's annual “No Excuses: Youth Traffic Safety Billboard Contest.”

Sophomore Leah Collins designed a billboard inspired by a Google image that depicted a driver who had been distracted and hit a child on a bicycle.

The billboard shows a driver walking toward a pink helmet lying on the ground.

She wanted a slogan that would be easy to read but powerful. 

"Distracted. Impacted" represents the impact of a car accident — not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. 

It was unveiled Thursday, April 19, in the 1300 block of Route 94 South by the center and sponsor State Farm. 

Missy Sweitzer from the Center for Traffic Safety, takes a photo of South Western high-school student Leah Collins, center, with her winning billboard design, which is displayed along Route 94 South, just north of Hanover, Thursday, April 18, 2018. Pictured from the left is Ryan California from State Farm, SWHS drivers-ed teacher Greg Sprenkle, SWHS principal Keith Downs, Leah Collins, SWHS drivers-ed teacher Daemon Poalucci, Barbara Metzler from Sen. Richard Alloway's office, and Carrie Nace from State Rep. Kate Klunk's office.   John A. Pavoncello

Peer to peer: The Center for Traffic Safety, which is funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, started the billboard design project in Lebanon County in 2015 as a peer-to-peer initiative.

Last year, it expanded it to all four counties served by the center — York, Lebanon, Adams and Lancaster.

"Car crashes are the No. 1 killer of teens, and unless things change, it's likely they will continue to be," said Missy Sweitzer, the center's coordinator for York and Adams counties.

The contest provides a way to reach that teen target audience and create advocates, she said, adding, "the message Leah has up there is relevant to all of us."

Missy Sweitzer from the Center for Traffic Safety, talks to South Western high-school student Leah Collins, center, about her winning billboard design, which is displayed along Route 94 South, just north of Hanover, Thursday, April 18, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

Drunk driving: Collins received $100 for her win, and her school received a $1,000 mini grant, which will go toward traffic-safety programs.

Greg Sprenkle, a driver's ed teacher at South Western, said the money will likely go toward a drunk driving simulator from the Pennsylvania DUI Association. 

It's something the school has used, along with a "drunk Bug" — a Volkswagen bus students could drive safely in a parking lot to simulate drunk driving, Principal Keith Davis said.

Lessons: Collins was happy to be able to bring more awareness to the issue of distracted driving with her billboard.

 "I was taking driver's ed and learned a lot more about accidents and the amount of teen drivers that get into accidents," she said.

The number was a lot higher than she thought it would be, and she knows some of it can be attributed to texting and driving.

She said it also is important to remember the number of people affected by an accident. 

From cops responding to the incident to friends and family of the victim, "it can get up to hundreds that have heard about it," she said.

"I really didn't expect to win it," she said. "It meant a lot."