2017 Scholarship Winner

If you are out walking your dog, Kristina McGee will most certainly come up to say hello to your four-legged friend. Kristina is all about dogs, and always drives extra carefully to come home safely to her own dog, Gigi.

Kristina has lived in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania with her mom, Sharon, and older sister, Kara, for 17.5 of her 18.5 years. After spending her infancy in China, Kristina’s “forever family” flew overseas to adopt her and bring her home to the United States.

Kristina is currently a senior at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford, PA. She is grateful for her wonderful teachers and for the opportunities her school district has provided. She has been co-captain of the school’s tennis team, a competitive swimmer, practicing photographer, and marching band member. During the school year she works at the YMCA lifeguarding and teaching swimming lessons. She is also a neighborhood favorite for taking care of dogs! In summers she enjoys working as a tennis assistant coach/teacher. She has also volunteered for ACEing Autism, Relay for Life, local theater groups, and animal welfare organizations.

Kristina is planning to major in Marketing Communications, with the ultimate goal of helping nonprofit organizations. One of her life ambitions is to start a rescue organization to care for and place homeless dogs. She is thankful for the generosity of Polito Law in helping her to realize these dreams.

Essay Prompt: 

How can technology be used to help prevent and / or reduce accidents caused by distracted driving?

Essay: 

Love You Back – Kristina McGee

Can technology = love? When it comes to distracted driving, the answer is yes.

I would like to introduce you to Love You Back, my in-car device that motivates drivers to stay focused on the task of driving. First, the background:
Nobody, adult or teen, goes on the road intending to be unsafe. Yet when I am in cars with friends, I hear remarks such as: “Oh…I want to check to see who just texted.” “I need to put thisaddress in my GPS.” “Look! There is Justin on the corner!” “Quick, show me the picture.”

Even though my generation is most at fault, it is not just a teen problem. I see adult drivers check email at stoplights, look away to tune a radio, turn around to tend to a child in the back seat, or shoo a pet off a lap.

Why do we risk our lives and the lives of others? It is not as easy as it sounds. Do we not know the risks? Yes, yes, we do. In school there are meetings focusing on texting and driving. In driver’s education there is ample attention to the dangers of distracted driving. Adults, ironically, warn teens on driving dangers even as they practice their own long-standing ways of paying less than full attention to the road.

To supplement the excellent research on the Polito & Associates website, I did some (admittedly, unscientific) interviews with five teens and five adults. Even though all know distracted driving is an issue, none of the ten individuals felt they themselves succumbed to temptations while driving. Therefore, there is a disconnect. I then asked why they felt others in their age group might be irresponsible from time to time. Teens answered that their friends felt nothing bad would ever happen to them. Adults responded that other adults feel able to handle
a short look-away given decades of driving experience.

Existing technology can be worked around. For example, the latest iPhone version will not interface when it senses vehicle speed. However, it is simple for the driver to click “I’m not driving” to disable the alert (and become more distracted while doing so).

So, what might motivate a driver to be mindful at all times? Not logic. Instead, drivers in the moment should be reminded emotionally of just how much they have to live for. They should know their actions at any time can impact those who love them most.

Enter Love You Back! Love You Back is a dashboard image synced with a mobile phone and/or an in-car eye sensor. Whenever the mobile phone is moved and/or when the eyes shift in an  atypical pattern, the device illuminates with a message…

What does it say? NOT “Stay focused.” Teens don’t think it applies to them and adults believe they are skilled already. The driver sees a large image of someone the driver loves. For teens it might be their dog. For adults, perhaps their child(ren) or partner. Along with the picture are the words, “I love you. Please come back safely.” If the picture is of a human, the message is audio; if an animal it is a caption.

Thinking twice about the real impact of carelessness on those they love helps drivers think beyond that moment. If logic can’t work, then the long face of a floppy-eared dog waiting by the window might be persuasive. A child standing by the door waiting for a hug could do the trick. There are reasons to live that go beyond texting.

So, can technology = love? With Love You Back in the car, yes.

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