ONTONAGON, Mich. (WJMN) – The office of Highway Safety Planning, Transportation Improvement Association and Michigan schools team up yearly to spread awareness about safe driving during the Strive for a Safer Drive (S4SD) campaign.

Ontonagon Area Schools has participated for the last seven years. Kenneth Raisanen advises the students participating in the program as the volunteer manager of the school’s radio station, where he also does a radio lab class.

“I was looking for something for a public service program for the kids to work on and I was just searching the internet and it popped up, and I thought ‘Gee that would be perfect,'” said Raisanen. “I started looking one day and it popped up the next day and we’ve been involved ever since.”

Students who take the class work to put on a safe driving campaign, usually including a poster or button design contest, to raise awareness for and discourage distracted driving.

“Originally it was just the junior high and high school and we’d do a button creation project with the seventh and eighth grade kids, make up a button that has S4SD on it or S4SD with the DBD logo on it, some sort of artwork,” said Raisanen.

Students and Ken Raisanen working on button making in 2020.

They give out prizes for the best poster. To promote the campaign they give out wrist bands, students in the program get t-shirts and they host a poster contest for all students in the school. This year they may try to add a banner on the road coming into the village.

“All the kids that volunteer, and I tell them by the way if you’re in radio you’re volunteering for this to the program, and then we bring on a bunch of other kids to help you know that are interested,” said Raisanen. “And we give them all a shirt with the logo on it as part of our budget and yeah we’ve expanded over the years where we’ve done some of the wire framed signs, like you see during election time, we’ve had those sometimes spread around the village. This year I think we’re going to get a 30-foot banner, they have a big welcome to Ontonagon sign on the outskirts that they have a spot where you can put big signs.”

S4SD has been taking place for 11 years. Schools that participate get a $1,000 grant for funding their campaign. Topics include speeding; seat belts; pedestrian, bicyclist and passenger safety; and impaired, distracted, nighttime and winter driving. Kayla Thomas-Wright, program coordinator for Strive for a Safer Drive, says the program is meant to be fun and get students involved.

Kayla Thomas-Wright explains what S4SD is

“So yes, they have to educate people but its fun and we want you to be creative and use this time to educate but in a really fun and interactive way,” said Thomas-Wright. “So the students are able to you know rent driver simulators, and rent different impaired goggles things of that nature just to get students involved.”

To get involved in the program proposals can be submitted starting in September and then 75 schools are picked to participate. After the campaign ends on April 4, the students submit a video or a PowerPoint presentation by April 15 to outline their campaigns. The top 5 schools judged to have winning campaigns will receive cash prizes ranging from $500 to $1,500.

“We judge that based on their campaign so at the end they create a PowerPoint or a video so as they’re creating those, we look at the three events, they take pictures, they take videos so then it kind of makes us feel like we were there in a way even if we weren’t,” said Thomas-Wright. “So we go through their campaign projects and from there the Office of Highway Safety Planning and Ford Driving Skills for Life and then myself, we all get together, we go over these campaigns, and then we have a judging score sheet that we use.”

Since it’s inception in 2011, 176 different Michigan high schools have participated.