​​​​Careless teen driving: Small actions, big consequences

May 10, 2021

A still frame from a teen driving PSA that shows a family around a dinner table with one member faded out

“​If you just pay a little attention, you see people talking or texting on their phones, brushing their hair, eating, all kinds of things while they're driving."

Who do you suppos​​​​e said this? A law enforcement officer? Perhaps some sort of traffic safety professional? No, neither of those. These observant words came from an 18-year-old high school senior from Elk River. And instead of making this insightful observation and just moving on, this particular teen – whose name is Zach Knapp – decided to do something about it: He made a 40-se​cond​​ PSA for his local sheriff's office to distribute.

Zach KnappZach attends a high school that focuses on community service. “We each do a​ senior legacy project to graduate. It's part of our graduation requirements," Zach explains. “Every graduating senior has to leave a legacy. The idea is to leave a lasting impression on an organization by doing something that benefits them somehow."

When Zach started by talking to Roxanne Schreder, who represents the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office in Toward Zero Deaths, he knew he could do something to benefit them. Considering his love of video production, a PSA seemed like just the thing. Zach pitched his idea at a TZD meeting in March of 2020, with grand plans of a big, outdoor production featuring lots of his friends. And then came COVID-19.

So Zach spent the next few months writing rough drafts of scripts, all of which had to be limited to what he had in the house – and that's how he ended up filming a PSA on his phone, using his family around the kitchen table as actors, and editing it on his laptop. Fortunately, his family was on board from the beginning: “They wanted to see it succeed and knew it was a really big deal. So they were more than willing to help out." The result is still effective. The viewer's heart goes out to the three people eating dinner together, trying not to look at the empty chair where their family member used to sit.

From 2010 to 2019 in Minnesota, 51 percent of teens age 16-19 killed in traffic crashes were riding with a teen driver. By contrast, only 4 percent of teens age 16-19 killed in traffic crashes were riding with an adult. Zach calls those statistics “pretty staggering." He feels careless teen drivers need “a mental shift. They need to understand they're operating a motor vehicle that could kill anyone inside or outside it."

Concern creeps into Zach's voice as he describes how lightly some kids he knows talk about speeding and other irresponsible driving behaviors. “I know a kid who had his license taken away for driving 105 mph. Then he talks about it so nonchalantly! That shouldn't be OK." He feels adults need to talk with teens about distracted driving and speeding with the same gravity as they talk to teens about drugs and alcohol. “We take that seriously and listen and have conversations about it." Perhaps his PSA can be a first step.

When asked what he wants his legacy to be, Zach responds, “If I could have it do one thing, I want there to be more thought with everyday drivers who do something they think is nothing. Like when they pick up their phone without realizing it's illegal and dangerous. And could lead to death or property damage. The average driver needs to put more thought into their actions on the road and have people more aware of the consequences."

“A small action could carry a big consequence."

If you're a teen, speak up to your friends about driving smart when you see them making bad driving choices behind the wheel. Parents, have conversations with your teens on a regular basis about the importance of driving smart. If we all take Zach's advice and start the conversation, we can help everyone get home to their families at the end of the day.