On Tuesday morning, just after sunrise, a group of Half Moon Bay High School students waited for their breakfast as they watched cars drive by.
Clipboard in hand, one girl tallied every car. Others counted those who were using cellphones, eating, listening to loud music or performing other activities that took drivers’ eyes off the road.
About 10 students participated in “Roadwatch,” a program run in partnership with the local Youth Leadership Institute chapter and the statewide organization Friday Night Live. One day each year, young people across California gather at 7 a.m. near their schools to gather data on distracted driving.
Across the state, these students plan to analyze the data they collect and see how it can be used in their city.
“We’re addressing the distracted driving issue by putting young people in the middle of the data collection aspect, giving them the power and opportunity to solve it,” California Friday Night Live Director Lynne Goodwin said.
This is the first time Half Moon Bay High School students participated in the data collection.
“We think it’s important to do in Half Moon Bay because driving is the main form of transportation and how folks get around here,” Youth Leadership Institute Program Coordinator Smitha Gundavajhala said.
The data students collect has been used to encourage change in other schools across the state.
Magnolia High School students were appalled by the lack of safe crossings near their high school in Orange and presented the data to the City Council. The city installed a stoplight in front of the school within a year. In Santa Cruz, one high school presented the data collected to the county and convinced the government to accelerate a project to put sidewalks near the high school. San Mateo students were inspired to put up signs reminding people not to eat and drive.
Junior Abby Valle ate oatmeal topped with bananas, strawberries and chocolate chips while she kept track of distracted drivers during the event.
Valle joined Youth Leadership Institute to help solve problems. She was excited they would be talking about how to address climate change, housing and other issues in her own community.
Last year, Gundavajhala said she collected the data and then presented it with the students. But this time, she and fellow Program Coordinator Rubi Salazar sought to involve students and explain how an entire community could be affected by distracted driving.
“Young people are fired up to do stuff, but it has to be a worthwhile reason,” Gundavajhala said. “I think they’ll show up for anything at 7 a.m. as long as they feel like it matters.”
Goodwin said groups use the data in different ways. Schools, for example, can use the data in Common Core math lessons.
“It’s a deliberate process,” Goodwin said. “You’re not just standing out there. You’re in charge of looking at that lane. They’re so focused on watching, they see the world in a whole new way.”