Teens say Snapchat is a driving distraction


ANNVILLE, Pa. (WHTM) — Abby Strickland and Austin Eldridge wanted to think out-of-the-box.

When the two seniors at Eastern Lebanon County High School entered a billboard design contest aimed at teen drivers, they knew the obvious message was to warn their peers about texting. But they decided to highlight another activity they say is probably less known among adults but poses an equal danger to teens.

“We thought, hey, Snapchat!” Strickland said. “I think it’s a little more relevant because people (still) text now, but you can also call through your car so you don’t have to be texting all the time. People really like those Snapchat filters, too.”

Strickland is referring to a feature of the Snapchat app which uses facial recognition to add animated mask-type qualities to a user’s face. Snaps, as they are known, are short video messages up to 10 seconds that are sent out to fellow users instantly but do not live on a timeline or feed like other social media apps. While app settings allow users to keep their snaps as part of their daily “story” for up to 24 hours, default settings delete the message permanently a few seconds after it is viewed.

“A lot of my own friends do it all the time,” Strickland added.

“Abby and Austin literally had their finger on the pulse of what’s actually going on right now,” said Barbara Zortman of The Center for Traffic Safety, which sponsored the contest with a grant from State Farm Insurance. “We had received 14 designs, and Abby and Austin were the only design that addressed the issue of Snapchat.”

The billboard, now seen by thousands of drivers daily along Route 422 in Annville, depicts a teen driver holding a smartphone with a bright yellow Snapchat app logo on the screen. The top of the billboard poses the question “How Will Your Story End?” playing off the Snapchat “story” lingo. A statement below reads, “The Choice is in Your Hands.”

Eldridge says the idea also stemmed from seeing news headlines from stories about teenagers killed in smartphone-related distracting driving crashes across the country.

“Like local teen dies because he’s messing around with a friend taking selfies or something like that,” he said. “If that were one of my own friends, I would be devastated to hear that.”

Eldridge and Strickland each received a cash prize and commendation from State Rep. Russ Diamond and Senator Mike Folmer.

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