‘Better a second in a life then a life in a second’ is our slogan which got us thinking that being involved in this project is something we had to do to raise awareness of the importance of respecting traffic safety and appreciating life more.
Earlier this year, the School for Electrical Engineering "Mija Stanimirović" was invited to join the international project "Your Ideas, Your Initiatives"; it marked a decade of traffic safety actions developed to bring about a reduction in the number of traffic accidents. We, to the satisfaction each of us, gladly accepted participation in the project because we saw in it an opportunity and a way to improve the traffic situation around our school area. Our school is located near an unsecured railway crossing and by a main road where nobody respects the crosswalk or even considers decreasing their speed. Students often carelessly run across the street and across the railroad tracks outside of the designated places; this has lead to incidents on the road and some injured students.
This project was able to lead to a change of behavior among our peers and involved the local community, the media and the traffic police in an effort to solve the traffic problems we face every day. From the beginning what also inspired us were the terrifying details of traffic related accidents as one of the leading causes of death, not only in our country but around the world. The fact is that traffic accidents in the Republic of Serbia account for an annual average of 800 deaths, with more than 19,000 people a year are injured. As well, we were moved by the shocking documentary and advertising films which we all watched and discussed, and which led us to think that getting involved in this action with all our hearts is something we had to do, and that raising awareness about the importance of respecting traffic culture is a way of learning to appreciate life more.
In addition, we completed a cycle of educational workshops in many areas of traffic safety on topics we chose. Topics included: risky behavior, responsible behavior, road safety, actors of prevention, traffic culture; we implemented these with the assistance of the traffic police.
The first action outside of school was our visit to the so-called "Cemetery of Cars" – a parking area with cars destroyed in accidents ‒ with the aim of direct observation of the tragic consequences of road accidents. There, we were put in the role of investigators and had to guess how the accidents occurred and whether there were any victims; we then heard stories by the traffic police. We also had the opportunity to visit the Police Headquarters in Niš and to get to know the ins and outs of how the traffic police work. There was a meeting organized and a conversation with eyewitnesses and the parents of a child who was tragically killed in a traffic accident, and that encounter forever changed our whole perspective.
Encouraged to think and discuss the information we heard on the number of traffic casualties, images from tragic movies, confessions of those involved in accidents, and the personal experiences of peers, we defined the key problems leading to accidents in our community. The main problem was an insufficient awareness of the importance of respecting traffic rules, often because of poor knowledge of regulations and a public perception that "It cannot happen to me." Drivers often drive drunk and fast, they are arrogant, and they don’t pay attention to the pedestrian crossings. The age of vehicles on our streets is also a risk factor, as well as the irresponsible crossing of pedestrians outside the crosswalks. The main problem in the vicinity of our school is the unprotected railway crossing and the highway crossing where there isn’t a 30 km/h speed limit, as near other schools. We usually cross very carelessly at these hazardous areas on a daily basis on our way to and from school. The questions arise: What can we do about it? How can we change it, correct it?
The main goal of our campaign was to try to influence the minds and behavior of students in our school, students from other schools, drivers, pedestrians, citizens, and the wider community. We thought, let's first start with ourselves and then continue our mission by influencing the behavior of others. With this project and its media campaign, we wanted to draw the attention of all those responsible in the city and to include the institutions that would permanently solve the problem of the school crossings, with a constant presence of police patrols on the road, better lighting, and more obvious vertical and horizontal signalization and fencing at the railway crossing. All our resources - diagnostic equipment, the knowledge and experience of professors and students - were made available to those who prefer safety and security. Starting with these objectives, we came up with the initiatives.
Each day, we actively worked on the development of our campaign initiatives and the accompanying logo, slogans and flyers. One of the slogans that we are very proud of and which reveals the key message of the campaign is: "Better a second in my life, then a life in a second!" In a joint effort with the Municipality of Palilula, a press conference for the media was held and the idea of the project was promoted.
There were also organized student-police patrols at critical junctions across the city. On these occasions, motorists who did not commit any traffic violations were rewarded by the students with educational leaflets that invited drivers to a free diagnostic control of their vehicles in the school garage. To those who committed traffic violations, we gave leaflets with traffic regulations and recommendations for responsible behavior in traffic.
A diagnostic check of vehicles was also conducted. A team of students and professors conducted a review of all incoming vehicles (systems stability, safety, emission control, headlights, etc.), and drivers had the opportunity to learn how to do some checking themselves.
Hosting students and teachers on one the most popular local television shows made the project more visible and familiarized the general public with our ideas and activities. There was a great promotional announcement which followed in the main square. Thus, the citizens had the opportunity to learn about our campaign, with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of respecting traffic rules. In collaboration with the traffic police and professors and students of a high school for vocational studies, we interviewed passers-by about traffic rules, handed out flyers created in one of the workshops which promoted the key message of our campaign-slogan: "Better a second in a life, then a life in a second”. Citizens were very interested in this event; they gladly took part and answered our questions; some were able, for the first time, to be in the shoes of someone under the influence of alcohol, opiates, drugs or fatigue using special glasses which gave them “an altered picture of reality". The entire event was covered by a local television station, with special coverage during their news program.
With these activities our initiative is not finished: our students and peer educators have designed a workshop for classmates. Our mission continues with visits to the other schools, sharing the experience and knowledge acquired during this project in order to raise awareness of the importance of respecting traffic rules. We have visited six schools so far; since they showed a great interest, we decided to continue with our activity and to include as many schools as possible.
We are proud that our ideas and our initiatives have achieved their goal. Students have changed their attitude and behavior on the roads. We hope that the authorities in the city will continue until the end of the school year setting up better street lighting, a more noticeable warning of the school zone and of the speed limit. Our team of students ‒ certified by traffic police for educating youth in the area of traffic safety ‒ continues its mission in cooperation with the police in the years to come. We believe that by taking the first step in awakening awareness of all those whom we addressed, they will make the choice for life!