Six years ago, Travis Tucker appeared on televisions across the country, belting Lionel Richie songs in his quest to become the next “American Idol.” Since then, his audience has shrunk in size, he says, but grown in importance: He’s a high school math teacher in Prince William County.
This week, his two careers will intersect, as Tucker’s new music video, “It Can Wait,” is unveiled at a county School Board meeting, aimed at changing the behavior of students in Prince William and beyond.
Tucker’s song and video — aimed at dissuading teens from texting while driving — will be released just before National Teen Driver Safety Week. It will soon air in school districts across the state.
“They asked me to write a song and I said, ‘Yeah man, I write songs all the time.’ And it just went from there,” said Tucker, who teaches at Freedom High School in Woodbridge. “I’m fortunate that I get the opportunity to work with the students and also pursue my creative interests.”
Nearly 5,500 people are killed each year because of distracted driving, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation — and many of those accidents involve teens text-messaging while behind the wheel. In the video, Tucker croons as a dramatic story of a texting-related accident unfolds.
“It’s a growing problem, and it’s growing every year. It’s more dangerous than driving drunk,” said Ben Swecker, supervisor for media production at Prince William County schools. “When you text, you take your attention completely away from the road.”
Tucker’s video marks a new effort to reach out to a young audience, fluent with mobile technology but still unseasoned on Northern Virginia roads and highways. Over the past few years, the district has developed another program, “Partners for Safe Teen Driving,” that aims to reinforce the dangers of distracted driving, largely by encouraging parental involvement and oversight.
But by releasing a music video with slick production values and a famous face, the school district hopes to make a public service announcement into a viral sensation. Students are being encouraged to share it on social networking sites. It has been distributed to media outlets across the state.
As the program has grown in recent years, Swecker thought connecting with kids in a meaningful way seemed impossible. “It would take a campaign that we couldn’t afford,” he said. “Billboards and public service announcements weren’t getting to them.”
That’s when the school district called on its own famous face.
Tucker first starred in the district’s instructional videos, explaining how to adjust a mirror and steer properly. The music video put his talent on display in a larger scale.
“The truth is, life is fragile, so take heed to these three words,” he sings. “It can wait.”