Each year, Wells Call Injury Lawyers holds an annual contest for students and awards the winner a scholarship to put towards their college tuition.

Last year, in 2021, Ayesah Babbrah won the award for best essay following a prompt sharing a compelling idea that could help lower or even prevent drunk driving among teens.

Ayesah shares her compelling thoughts below.

How can we get teenagers to listen? It’s an age-old question that seems to elude every new generation. For starters, change will not occur in a crowded school gymnasium during a two-hour presentation. These assemblies promote short-term improvements– only lasting a week or two before students forget or lose interest in the intended cause. The more effective appeal to a younger audience is through a measurable incentive. Adolescent drivers have grown up in the age of social media, from Instagram to Snapchat and more recently, TikTok. Each of these apps have one thing in common: instant gratification. This focus on likes, virality, and influence can be swayed to promote positive change. Consumption of drugs and alcohol in young adults is circumstantial, some are more exposed to such behaviors and are unfortunately subjected to peer pressure or external factors that increase their likelihood of driving under the influence. Instead of targeting the origin of consumption, this solution attempts to ensure a sober, designated driver to promote driver safety. 

Creating a new app and developing a large, targeted young audience would prove difficult in the competitive market of social media platforms. A more innovative approach would utilize the existing platforms– primarily Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok– by introducing new features that provide rewards for road safety. Users can ‘opt in’ to allow their smartphones to anonymously select a designated driver out of a group of phones or existing group chat on iMessage or Snapchat– popular communication apps among teens in the United States. The group of people who expect to be under the influence can thus impartially select a designated driver whose phone will vibrate, indicating the selection. Not only will the anonymity encourage younger participants to use the app, (this method considers fear of legal consequence for underage consumers) but the anticipation of the experience will provide a game-like phenomenon for teenagers to participate in. In theory, the participating parties would enter the respective app and select a button denoted “Choose Driver”. The app would spin a virtual wheel with the names of each chat member until one is landed on as the driver of the night. Utilizing technology, each person would be fairly selected by an unbiased algorithm to safely transport participants without falling under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

This is, however, an idealized version of technology. How can we be sure that the person selected will remain sober and agree to the selection. In short, we can never fully ensure accountability of the group, but there are ways to promote higher efficacy– primarily with peer pressure. In a traditional sense, the term “peer pressure” assumes a negative connotation. However, in the context of this tech feature, peer pressure could be manipulated to promote safe driving. Consider the following situation: a group of teenagers are attending a party, but don’t want to drive home drunk. They remember that Snapchat just added a ‘Designated Driver’ feature, through which a driver can be selected without bias and a different person is chosen each time. Each group member agrees that, if the rest of the group participates in this selection process, they will too. With mutual consent and agreement, the group takes accountability without fear of being singled out. In addition to this psychological aspect, there can potentially be a monetary reward for the designated driver. To further incentivize sobriety in young drivers, the designated driver’s data can be shared with other social media platforms and converted into small “rewards” on each app. For example, the social media app TikTok often provides a small taste of fame to its users by allowing certain videos to gain exposure through a “For You” page. TikTok could redesign its algorithm to incentivize road safety by increasing the chance of virality for users who demonstrate consistent safe driving practices and get selected as a designated driver.

Similarly, the social media messaging app Snapchat promotes daily use of the app by creating “Snapchat Streaks” which display the number of days per which two users Snapchat each other consistently. This may not seem like much, but young adults have transformed these streaks into a competition with millions of dedicated players; the higher the streak number, the better. Playing off of this competition mentality, Snapchat could develop a similar feature for the number of days that a user has been selected to drive– this tally would allow groups to ensure equality in distribution of the designated driving role. This feature could ultimately transform into a competition that promotes safe driving in a unique, engaging manner. 

An additional incentive can potentially be implemented through platforms like Instagram and Facebook which profit off of intermittent ads in a user’s personalized feed. Rather than promoting fame, these apps could offer discounts on certain advertised products for users who consent to being the sober driver. This reward accounts for more than just a young audience, encouraging both teens and adults to maintain their focus on the road with additional positive reinforcement. With a multitude of age groups accounted for, this feature has the ability to incentivize safe driving for everyone on the road. 

These small changes, equipped with benefits for both drivers and social media corporations, could lead to safer roads and a decrease in car accidents. Utilizing influential platforms for societal improvement continues to be a fundamental aspect of modern campaigns, and should be used to combat drunk driving in our nation.