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Federal Way fifth-grader tests stop sign hypothesis at Hoyt Road intersection
How often is it that an 11-year-old writes a letter to the editor of his local paper about a busy intersection?
Not often. Unless the 11-year-old is likely one of the leading experts in Federal Way on that intersection.
Last January, Dylan Brown, a fifth-grader at Brooklake Christian School, undertook a traffic study for a school project of the intersection of Southwest 320th Street and Hoyt Road/47th Avenue Southwest to see how many motorists would come to a complete stop at the sign.
It was an experiment in behavioral science. He began with the hypothesis that most people would obey traffic laws. He turned out to be wrong.
“I wasn’t exactly surprised,” he said. “I thought most cars would stop because it’s the law, but I guess not.”
So when Federal Way resident Kelly Camoza wrote a letter published Oct. 16 about a traffic ticket she got at the intersection, claiming that police cannot clearly see the entire intersection, Brown felt he needed to respond.
“I saw an opportunity to show my knowledge,” Brown said.
In his letter, Brown ticked off his findings. During two separate 20-minute sessions of car watching — once during rush hour, once during the afternoon — from the parking lot on the southwest corner of the intersection, he observed 604 cars, 263 of which stopped, 341 that did not.
Brown further observed that more vehicles turn at the intersection — 480 out of the total 604. And those drivers are worse violators: He observed only 177 make a full stop.
Brown chose the project after looking at some suggestions on the Internet, but tailored the project to fit Federal Way. He chose the intersection of 320th and Hoyt Road/47th Avenue because it’s near his house, and he would always see his mother, father and babysitter come to a complete stop there. That’s where his hypothesis came from.
“The best projects are when the hypothesis is proven wrong,” said Brown’s mother, Karen.
Even though Brown is not exactly a traffic engineer and was only 10 when he conducted the experiment, he was told his observations match up with what Federal Way police already know. Recently, Brown’s mother saw an officer patrolling the intersection, which reminded them to share the report with the police department. Brown spoke to Lt. Mark Bensen and was informed that his findings were pretty accurate.
Brown’s project was also well received at school. He got high marks from his teacher, Julie Friedland. She sent Brown and some of his fellow junior scientists on to the district science fair in Seattle where they competed against other Washington Christian schools. Brooklake took home a first place trophy, and Brown got a “superior” ribbon, the highest award.
“I love that Dylan chose something that had a real life application,” Friedland said. “We spend a lot of time talking abut why we have such a rigorous curriculum. It’s to prepare them not for the next level, but for the bigger picture. I tease them that they're the future leaders and any one of them could be the doctor that operates on me when I'm old.”
As part of the project, Brown was required to choose a passage from the Bible that relates to his findings. He chose Isaiah 1:15-17, which says, in part, “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right!”
Brown realizes that some people can be forgiven for their poor driving.
“I chose that verse because part of it says that God gave us the Bible for it to be our law,” Brown said. “But the government gives us laws to keep us safe. If we follow both God’s law and the government’s law, we’d be doing right all the time. But, then again, we’re humans and we make mistakes.”