A mother's love and grief channeled into a campaign to save young drivers

Posted February 13, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated February 13, 2019 1:51 p.m. EST

— Julie Garner of Fredericksburg, Virginia began Project Yellow Light after death of her then-16-year-old son, Hunter, in 2007.

"He was a great guy; he had a wicked sense of humor," Garner said. "He had friends from all walks of life, which probably made me the most proud as his mom."

Soon after summer break from school, Hunter Garner was riding in a car driven by a good friend. Julie Garner and her husband said will never forget that late-night phone call from the hospital.

"'Your son is in the emergency room, we need you to come now,'" Julie Garner recalled. "I knew that he was gone. I knew that he was dead. My mother's instinct, you might want to call it."

Hunter Garner, 16, died in car accident with friend in 2007

Hunter's friend also died that night.

Julie Garner's purpose for Project Yellow Light was to prevent distracted driving, especially texting behind the wheel among young drivers.

Students are challenged to compete in the Hunter Garner Scholarship competition. They can develop billboard messages, radio ads and videos to reach their peers. There are separate high school and college prizes awarded.

First-place high school and college winners of billboard design win a $2,000 scholarship. The deadline is March 1.

High School and college scholarship prizes for best video include $5,000 for first place, $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place. April 1 is the deadline for video entries.

April 1 is also the deadline for radio ads. The best audio ad submitted wins $2,000 in scholarship money.

The best presentations will receive national exposure on billboards, radio stations and local TV public service announcements.

Key partners include The Ad Council, Apparent Insurance, AT&T's "It Can Wait", Clear Channel Outdoor, iHeartMedia and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) among others.

More than helping students pay for college, Garner says Project Yellow Light is saving lives.

"I know that we can put a stop to this," she said. "I know that we can do it, and it is my personal mission. It's my passion project."