SUNY New Paltz sociology students receive Pride of Ulster Award

At podium: LaRosa, Back row: Schwartz, Spadafora, Kaempf and DiPaulo at Ulster Legislature meeting

NEW PALTZ – A group of sociology students from the State University of New York at New Paltz have been recognized for making drivers aware of the hazards of distracted driving. Kayla DiPaulo ‘13, Laura Kaempf ‘12, Dominique LaRosa ‘12, Jade Schwartz ‘13 and Jill Spadafora ‘12 received the Pride of Ulster Award from the Ulster County, N.Y. Legislature at its monthly meeting on May 15. The students, who were part of Professor Eve Waltermaurer’s criminological theory class, were recognized for proposing the county’s first Distracted Driving Awareness Day held on May 18.

In the class, the students were examining a theory that suggests young people do not feel their larger society cares about the distracted driving behavior. They found that since this behavior does not break any social norms, the current penalty for distracted driving does not dissuade people from doing it. To bring more attention to this issue, the students drafted a resolution proposing the countywide awareness day be added to the county’s official calendar to emphasize that distracted driving is unacceptable and remind drivers to avoid distractions when they are on the road.

The group was invited to first present their resolution proposal to the Ulster County Criminal Justice Sub-Committee chaired by Richard Parete. The legislators not only agreed to propose this resolution; they decided to ask the full legislature to designate May 18th as the first Ulster County Distracted Driving Awareness Day.

Parete said distracted driving is “a national crisis.” “(It) is an everyday issue and the young women brought this to our attention with some frightening statistics about the fatality rates and the accidents among young people under the age of 20,” he said.

LaRosa said her group based their project on the 2009 statistics that showed 5,474 people were killed in crashes and another 448,000 were injured as a result of distracted driving. “We thought an awareness day where you pass out fact sheets in the high schools might help teenagers realize what an important issue this is,” stated LaRosa.

The students also included the following advice on their fact sheet: “Be a role model while you’re driving. Ignore the phone and stow it away.;” “Add a message to your phone that says you can’t answer right now because you are driving.;” “Listen to your messages when you arrive at your destination.;” and “If a person calls you when he or she is driving a car, tell them you will call back later and ask them to hang up.”

Commenting on her students’ work and award, Waltermaurer said, “It was a terrific opportunity for students to take what they’re learning inside the classroom, to take the theories that have been written over the last hundred or more years, and tie them to the ‘real world.’”

Other projects created by students in Waltermaurer’s class to address the distracted driving behavior included a Facebook page, a video, a printed pamphlet, and a pledge that was signed by many students and members of the New Paltz community.