SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – A video created by three South Plainfield High School seniors was selected as a winning entry in the Middlesex County’s 2020 Comprehensive Traffic Safety Program’s 'Don’t Drive Dangerously' Public Service Announcement (PSA) contest. The minute-long clip ‘You Wouldn’t,’ created by Ashley Wyber, Zoë Lambert, and Jenna Elmasry, took home third place honors. 

“During this challenging time, our residents are more aware of personal safety than ever before. It is through challenges that creativity is bolstered and refined, and this was particularly evident in all the submissions this year,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios. 

In 2000, former Freeholder H. James Polos created a program called the 3D Middlesex County 'Don't Drink and Drive' PSA Video Contest’ with the goal of reducing alcohol related fatalities among teens, specifically targeting prom and graduation time. Over the years, the program has expanded to include all distracted and impaired driving, its name changed to the 3D Middlesex County 'Don’t Drive Dangerously' Contest. Now in its 20th year, the program’s mission has evolved from reducing alcohol-related fatalities among teens to combating all forms of dangerous driving.  

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“This was our first year entering the competition and these three students volunteered to take it on. I am incredibly proud of the fact they placed so highly on their first try and that they did everything themselves,” said Chris Cassio, broadcasting teacher at South Plainfield High School, noting that although he had some say in the plot development of the PSA, the rest - from the script down to the final edit – was all the work of the students. “The video was the last one they were able to do together in early March leading up to the quarantine,” Cassio said. 

The annual PSA contest is open to teens in all public and non-public Middlesex County high schools with a maximum of five students per youth-led team collaborating to produce either a 60-second video PSA or a 30-second audio PSA that focuses on the consequences of driving while distracted. The goal is to change the social climate of their community through compelling PSAs that depict drinking and driving as unacceptable behavior. 

“The driving safety program run by the county is a great idea and offers students so many different ways to get involved to promote safe driving,” said Cassio. 

The 2020 Awards Day and Safety symposium was initially scheduled for May 8 at Middlesex County College, and the contest was set to include 200 students from 18 different schools. After the pandemic hit, however, it was decided the contest should continue, and the submission deadline was extended through the end of the school year. 

A total of 25 submissions from 14 high schools made their way into this year’s contest with three winning videos and three winning audio PSA selected; they can be viewed at http://www.middlesexcountynj.gov/Government/Departments/PSH/Pages/3D-PSA.aspx.

In the video category, New Brunswick High School’s ‘It’s Not Worth It’ video took first place; Piscataway High School’s ‘Don't Let Technology Drive Your Life’ took second; and South Plainfield High School’s ‘You Wouldn't’ placed third. In the audio category, the winners were Monroe Township’s ‘My First Birthday’ (first place); John P. Stevens High School’s ‘Put Down the Phone’ (second place); and the Middlesex County Academy for Allied Health & Biomedical Sciences’ ‘Keep You Safe’ (third place). 

Cash prizes, funded by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, will be awarded to each of the six winning schools. For both audio and video, 1st place winners will receive $1,000; 2nd place will receive $750; and third place will receive $500. Additionally, the students who created the winning PSAs were each awarded Amazon gift cards. 

“This event has always been a great way for our county’s students to sharpen their artistic and technical skills,” said Middlesex County Freeholder Shanti Narra, chair of the public safety and health committee. “This year’s contest was impacted by COVID-19, but after making a few adjustments, the results are in, and we are prepared to safely honor our latest winners. Congratulations and thank you to all who participated!” 

Middlesex County’s Comprehensive Traffic Safety Program’s ‘Don’t Drive Dangerously’ Public Service Announcement (PSA) contest is co-sponsored by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders; Robert Wood Johnson-Injury Prevention; The Middlesex County Superintendent of Schools; the Wellspring Center for Prevention; and the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety. 

According to the county, these PSAs continue to be necessary with the Comprehensive Traffic Safety Program reporting approximately 40,000 deaths in the United States per year with vehicular crashes remaining the leading cause of death for people ages 1-35.

 “On behalf of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, I would like to congratulate the winners and thank all the students who participated in this contest to help spread the word of safe driving to their peers,” Rios added. 

 “I am glad we were able to participate in some capacity this year and, hopefully, next year we can go to the symposium,” said Cassio. “I want to thank the county creating this opportunity and giving students a creative outlet to promote vehicle safety.”

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