As a grandfather of nine, I know that kids are capable of some extraordinary things. But I have to tell you: the group of young people who came to visit me this week at DOT headquarters are really something special.
On Wednesday, RITA Administrator Peter Appel, NHTSA Deputy Administrator Ron Medford, and I got a chance to meet the Inventioneers--an award-winning team of young people from Londonberry, New Hampshire, who have competed in the FIRST LEGO League engineering competition for the last six years.
Ranging in age from ten to sixteen, the six group members--TJ Evarts, Jaiden Evarts, Bryeton Evarts, Paige Balcom, Emily Balcom, and Kate Balcom--are committed to "inventing to save lives." And over the last year, they've put their science and technology skills to use developing a tool to end texting while driving.
Dubbed the SMARTwheel (Safe Motorist Alert for Restricting Texting), their invention uses sensors placed inside a steering wheel cover to determine if someone may be driving distracted. If a driver removes their hands from the wheel for too long, the device beeps and a red light flashes to draw attention back to the road.
And as I tested out the SMARTwheel during the team's visit, I was impressed by how much thought and technical skill the team put into their design.
But the Inventioneers' work to make driving safer doesn't end with the SMARTwheel. Last year, the kids conceived and launched the Don't DUIT campaign, a public awareness effort designed to get people to pledge not to DUIT--Drive Under the Influence of Texting. They even filmed their very own PSA to spread the word:
Eventually, the team plans to develop an entire school education program that will combine their awareness campaign, the SMARTwheel, and a distracted driving simulator to deliver a powerful message to teens about the dangers of cell phone use while driving.
It's not often that you see kids this dedicated to finding solutions and pursuing safety. So to help further encourage their interest in technology and engineering, I promised to put them in touch with our folks at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.
There's no doubt in my mind that TJ, Jaiden, Bryeton, Paige, Emily, and Kate have the brightest of futures in front of them. I couldn't be prouder of everything they've accomplished, and you better believe I'll be on the lookout for what they do next.