Teen traffic safety is a driving passion for Alison Mitchell. Some of that passion springs from her role as Target Zero Manager (TZM) for Region 15 in rural eastern Washington.
But it’s personal, too. “I’m also the mom to two high school seniors who drive our rural roadways,” Alison says.
While traffic safety is a concern for most parents with teens, Alison decided to do more than worry. Already inspired by her husband’s career in law enforcement, she leapt at the chance to become a TZM when she learned about the job.
“I finally have the job that doesn’t feel like a job,” she says. “It’s what I live and breathe and wake up to do every morning and I’m really enjoying it.”
Alison focused on teen driving out of the starting gate, as her own kids were undergoing the driver’s education process.
One of the resources Alison found was Impact Teen Drivers, a non-profit awareness and education organization that provides educational materials, training and workshops related to changing the culture of teen driving.
“Impact Teen Drivers is clear, it’s effective,’ she says. “We’re using it in high schools, in middle schools, and private driver’s education courses. Everyone is loving it, including teenagers. It’s not fear-based. It’s very data-driven, positive, and empowers teenagers to make the right choices.”
In January Alison was attending a workshop for the Impact Teen Driver program and met program founder Dr. Kelly Browning. Browning was intrigued by Alison’s experiences on the front lines, and invited Alison to present at 2019’s Lifesaver’s Conference in Louisville.
“Alison’s invitation to present at Lifesavers,” said Jerry Noviello, who coordinates the Target Zero Managers for the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, “is the result of her seeking new opportunities, tools and partnerships and using them in her region. It’s to her credit that she could highlight her work and Washington on a national platform.”
During her presentation, Alison shared her experiences with the Impact program but also provided perspective about the teens driving in rural areas.
“We live in the middle of nowhere,” Alison says. “It’s a great place to raise kids, but there are downsides. It’s 45 minutes to the nearest large grocery store, for example. We spend a lot of time driving, including the teens.” Using her own teens as examples, she pointed out that her son drives an average of 1,600 miles each month, three times the national average for males his age. Her daughter’s millage puts her 4.5 times the national average for her cohort.
“Add these distances to factors like distraction, seat belt usage, speed and impairment, it almost seems like an unfair multitude of factors for teen drivers in rural areas,” she told the conference.
Alison believes a hands-on approach can help parents have an ongoing conversation with their teens about these challenges. One of the tools she uses is the Life 360 App, which can be downloaded to a smartphone and monitors driving behaviors like speed, hard braking, rapid acceleration, and phone use while driving. More than just a monitor on the teens, the app allows everyone in the family see how each is driving.
“Anyone in our private group can see if someone was going a little faster, and so we can say, ‘hey, what happened?’ It’s really about making sure everyone in the family is on the same page and following the same rules.”
Alison also believes it’s important to get teens involved as their own advocates for traffic safety. She provides opportunities for teens to volunteer at community events, like farmer’s markets and county fairs. The volunteers help distribute educational materials, or run activities like demonstrating impairment goggles or raffles. “It gets them excited and learning,” Alison says. “They’re kind of quiet at first but then they start talking and saying things about buckling up, going the speed limit, or never driving distracted or impaired, and all the good messages that probably never came out of their mouths before.”
From technology to training, Alison is finding ways to promote traffic safety, but believes the secret ingredient comes from within.
‘I think being effective at what you do, especially in this field, is just really being passionate. Sometimes you can feel like what you’re doing isn’t making a difference. But one thing I took from Lifesavers was that what I’m doing really does matter.”
Her advice? “We just need to keep staying the course and keep staying passionate, learning, and sharing, as much as we can and with as many people as we can.
“I love being able to educate people, to reach out to teenagers especially, and be able to talk to different community groups and seek their support. I have the chance to bring traffic safety to life for a lot of people who don’t normally think about it.”
You can follow Alison’s work in Region 15 on Central Basin’s Traffic Safety Task Force Facebook Page.