WEST ORANGE, NJ — The Nikhil Badlani Foundation Youth Advisory Board hosted Safety Week at West Orange High School from April 22 to 26, educating students about driving safety with different activities during lunch periods and culminating in a mural that will be unveiled outside the Tarnoff Cafeteria on May 3. The WOHS students also worked with officers from the West Orange Police Department to educate students about traffic safety in their driver’s education classes.
“The board is youth-led,” Sangeeta Badlani, the NBF’s president, said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle on April 26. “So they decided they wanted to do Safety Week, and each day would be a different theme.”
One day of Safety Week was dedicated to learning about the dangers of texting and driving with the use of virtual reality goggles, which allowed students to simulate being in a car accident. Another day was devoted to trivia quizzes about accident statistics, and students spent time working on a letter-writing campaign to lobby for Michelle’s Law.
The law, drafted in 2013 by Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, who represents New Jersey’s 35th Legislative District, would make drug testing mandatory for any driver involved in a fatal accident. The law is named after Michelle Sous, a North Haledon resident who was struck and killed by a car in 2013. The driver of that vehicle was never given a drug or alcohol test.
Badlani said the law, which was introduced in 2013, is coming up in this year’s session in the state Assembly.
“They decided to lobby for this,” she said of the NBF Youth Advisory Board members. “They gathered over 200 signatures from students and they’ll mail them to Assembly John McKeon and (Assemblywoman) Mila Jasey and hopefully they can get that passed.”
Riya Goel, a sophomore at WOHS and vice president of the Youth Advisory Board, said it’s important for high school students to learn about traffic safety because most of them are about to get their permit or driver’s license. WOHS students take driver’s education during their sophomore year.
“With the goggles, it made it so that people could understand what an accident would feel like,” Goel said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on April 27. “Most people are getting their licenses around this time, so it’s important to talk about these things.”
The mural was the idea of Brett Zeligson, a WOHS junior and member of the Youth Advisory Board. He wanted to add something permanent to the high school, so the wall outside the cafeteria is now covered with the NBF’s traffic safety pledge. As students pass their driver’s test, they will take the pledge and add their thumbprint to the mural.
“I wanted to make a more permanent mark on the school,” Zeligson said in a phone interview with the Chronicle on April 28. “I really like that people can make their mark on the wall and come back in 10 or 15 years and see their impact.”
Badlani said that Safety Week was entirely run by the students.
“I’m amazed at their creativity and at what they’ve done,” she said.
Goel said that the board is planning projects for next school year and continuing to raise awareness for traffic safety.
“We really want to stress the importance of safe and not distracted driving,” she said. “Because paying attention will keep the roads safe.”
Photos Courtesy of Sangeeta Badlani