Student Winners Announced for 9th Annual “Project Yellow Light” Scholarship Contest to Raise Awareness of Dangers of Texting and Driving

The Ad Council and Project Yellow Light announced the winners of the ninth annual Project Yellow Light scholarship competition. The contest involves students creating a TV, radio or billboard PSA to educate their peers about the dangers of distracted driving, specifically the dangers of using a phone while driving. The winning PSAs will be revealed today on a digital billboard in New York City’s Times Square, in space donated by Clear Channel Outdoor.

Project Yellow Light was established in 2007 by the family of Hunter Garner to honor his memory after his death in a car crash at age 16. According to the latest data, 2,841 people were killed in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2018. Texting while driving is an especially problematic trend among younger drivers. In 2018, 8 percent of people killed in teen (15-19) driving crashes died when the teen drivers were distracted at the times of the crashes.*

“A huge thanks to our amazing partners, participants and especially our 2020 Hunter Garner Scholarship winners for spreading this critical message about the dangers of distracted driving,” said Project Yellow Light founder Julie Garner. “I’m so proud of our student winners who are using their voice and creativity to impact young drivers and help save lives.”

Since 2011, Project Yellow Light has partnered with the Ad Council to turn the winning submissions into PSAs that receive national exposure through 1,600 TV stations nationwide, iHeartMedia radio stations, and Clear Channel Outdoor’s nearly 2,000 digital displays.

Supporting partners include AT&T’s It Can Wait, Apparent Insurance and Elephant Insurance, Clear Channel Outdoor (CCO), iHeartMedia, WKRN-TV Nashville, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS). Scholarships for this year’s winning students are supported through AT&T’s Aspire Initiative, a $600 million commitment since 2008 to education and skills building, Apparent Insurance, Clear Channel Outdoor and Elephant Insurance.

“Distracted driving remains an important road safety issue,” said Lisa Sherman, president and CEO of the Ad Council. “It’s critical to spread this message, and nobody is better suited to communicate the importance of driving safely to young people than their own peers.”

The contest received 2,163 submissions this year. Entries were received from students representing all fifty states and Washington, D.C. The 2020 scholarship prizes were awarded to the following winners:

  • First Domino (video, high school): Joanne Sakamoto (Roanoke, VA)
  • Phone Down (video, college): Kambria Cook (N. Chesterfield, VA)
  • Eyes on the Road (billboard design, high school): Jami Pandiscio (Franklin, MA)
  • It’s Simple (billboard design, college): Sierra Fentress (Sykesville, MD)
  • You Can Wait (radio, high school): Miriam Zuo (Sugar Land, TX)
  • Telegraphing Catastrophe (radio, college): Matthew Merrill (Frisco, TX)

A host of advertising industry executives and artists lent their time to judging the entries. This year’s panel included recording artist and songwriter Aloe Blacc; renowned filmmaker and social activist Kweku Mandela; Dentsu Aegis Network Global CEO Wendy Clark; Wordsworth + Booth President Tony Mennuto; Co-Chairman and Partner of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, Jeff Goodby; and representatives from the Martin Agency, Pereira O’Dell and Project Yellow Light partners the Ad Council, Apparent Insurance, AT&T’s It Can Wait, CCO, Elephant Insurance and iHeartMedia.

Elephant CEO Alberto Schiavon said:

“It’s extremely meaningful for us to partner with an organization like Project Yellow Light. Julie Garner and her team are doing incredible work to bring attention to the dangers of distracted driving. We’re grateful to be part of Project Yellow Light’s effort to allow high school and college students the opportunity to create anti-distracted driving messaging that resonates with their peers. Congratulations to this year’s winners for delivering impactful messaging!”

Apparent Insurance Managing Director, Colleen Benzin stated:

“We saw another year of excellent submissions from high school and college students around the country using creative messaging to reach their peers about the dangers of distracted driving. We applaud this year’s winners for their talents and dedication to driving awareness of this important topic. We are proud to be a part of this impactful competition.”

AT&T AVP of Corporate Brand Marketing, Ryan Luckey stated:

“The main goal of the It Can Wait program is to end distracted driving by educating all drivers about the dangers of smartphone use behind the wheel. We applaud this new generation’s efforts to use their talents to further raise awareness around this important issue.”

WKRN-TV Nashville Emmy-winning journalist, Alex Denis stated:

“Unlike so many issues in our world today, distracted driving is one we can easily solve. Simply, put the phone down. No one should suffer the loss of a loved one due to a senseless act so preventable. Let’s all work together to save lives.”

Vice President of Communications of iHeartMedia, Jessica King stated:

“Distracted driving continues to be a public safety concern that claims the life of innocent drivers every year. The Project Yellow Light program is an opportunity for iHeart to connect with the communities in which we live and work to spotlight this critical issue.”

Director of NOYS, Tameka Brown stated:

“Distracted driving is such a critical issue for young drivers. The media assets created by youth for Project Yellow Light resonates so strongly with their peers and makes this program so powerful.”

“Working with PYL was an amazing experience,” said high school video winner Joanne Sakamoto. “Sharing my domino idea through animation was such a fun way to emphasize the importance of safe and mindful driving, and I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity!”

College video winner Kambria Cook said: “I am so happy PYL gave me the opportunity to do the two things I love to do, create and motivate!”

“As a high schooler, I see distracted driving all of the time. It’s frustrating. Thankfully, Project Yellow Light gave me a vehicle to make positive change,” said high school billboard winner Jami Pandiscio.

“My creative was inspired by the realization that sometimes the simplest things in life can make the greatest difference,” said college billboard winner Sierra Fentress.

From text messages to social media updates to news alerts, our phones enable us to connect with others at all times, even, unfortunately, when we’re behind the wheel,” said high school radio winner Miriam Zuo. “I wanted to highlight, through historical context, the good that has come from waiting and challenge the dangerous temptation of instant gratification.”

“Project Yellow Light is an incredible organization that continues to make this crazy world a safer place,” said college radio winner Matthew Merrill. “Being able to contribute to their legacy with my radio submission has been an absolute honor!”

Through the Stop the Texts. Stop the Wrecks. campaign, the Ad Council and NHTSA have been working together to prevent distracted driving since 2012.

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