Essay Contest

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How do we get more people to use public transit? Which policies are best for replacing funding for the declining fuel tax? Are the bike paths in your city distributed fairly for everyone? 

The Mineta Transportation Institute Essay Contest invites students in grades 6-12 to propose and explore a solution to a problem centered around a specific theme each year under one or more of the following principles of transportation: sustainability, equity, safety, community, and innovation. 

This essay contest is your chance to propose solutions to real-world issues. No matter your passion—sustainability, equity and diversity, safety, community, or technology—you can take hold of this moment to write something worth reading about. Don’t forget prize money, a certificate of achievement, and the chance to get published!

Our world is being transformed by technology, by climate change, and by you. Although the future feels uncertain, your voice can make a difference. Are you up for the challenge?


Participants must be enrolled in any public, private, or home school in 6th-12th grade in the United States to participate. Each entry must have a mentor or teacher to review and sponsor the essay. See THE RULES for details on how to submit!


2023-2024 Theme:

More than 43,000 people die on roads in the U.S. each year and millions more are injured. Conventional viewpoints have held that road collisions are an inevitable consequence of modern roads. However, armed with the right strategies, we can stop this trend and bring these grim statistics down to zero. This is #VisionZero2030—a commitment to eradicating traffic-related fatalities and injuries by the year 2030.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg called the number of traffic deaths a national crisis. Last year, the Biden Administration awarded $5 billion to the Safe Streets & Roads for All to promote safety for all road users, particularly vulnerable pedestrians and bicyclists. Despite these efforts, the heartrending reality persists—on average, four lives are lost every hour, every day, across the nation due to traffic accidents. The clock is ticking, and the time for action is now.

Essay prompts:

  1. How does the role of urban planning and infrastructure design come into creating safer roads and reducing traffic collisions? Provide specific examples of how changes in road design can enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety.

  2. How can we empower our community and young people to make changes toward achieving VisionZero2030? What are the most effective ways to raise awareness about the importance of transportation safety among teenagers? How can this awareness be translated into responsible behaviors on the road?

  3. Explore the relationship between distracted driving and the rise in traffic collisions. What measures can be taken at the individual, community, and legislative levels to mitigate the dangers of distracted driving?

  4. Analyze the impact of cultural attitudes and societal norms about transportation modes and road safety. How can cultural shifts and awareness campaigns play a role in changing behaviors and promoting safer driving practices among different age groups and communities?

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For questions or concerns regarding this contest, please contact Alverina Weinardy.


2022-2023 "Rethink Your Ride" Essay Winners

Group 1

Group 2

Reduction of Car-Reliance in the US Economy
By Anping Huang
Grade 9, Lynbrook High School, San José, CA

Read Anping's Essay

Public Transportation: Incentivizing Widespread Usage
By Caitlin Zhou
Grade 10, Lynbrook High School, San José, CA

Read Caitlin's Essay


2023-2024 #VisionZero2030 Essay Winners

Group 1

Group 2

Distracted Driving: Its Impact on Society and Solutions
By Christine Jung
Grade 7, Campbell School of Innovation, Campbell, CA

Read Christine's Essay

Infrastructure That Saves Lives: How to Make El Camino Real Safe For Everyone
By April Beyersdorf
Grade 12, Saint Francis High School, Mountain View, CA

Read April's Essay


The Prizes

A total of $1500 will be given to the two winners! The winner from the 6th-9th grade category will receive $500 and a certificate of achievement. The winner from the 10th-12th grade category will receive $1,000 and a certificate of achievement.

Winning essays will be published on MTI’s website and in our newsletter for ## of readers!

Note: All prizes must be claimed by the end of the academic school year in which the entries were made. 


The Rules

All students enrolled in grades 6-12 in public, private, and home schools within the United States are encouraged to submit.

All entries must be original work reviewed, approved, and sponsored by a teacher or mentor. MTI will contact the sponsor with any questions about a specific entry. Homeschooled students must contact a mentor to sponsor their entry. The teacher/mentor must complete and attach the required required cover sheet. A digital signature will be approved.

General Rules

  • All essays must be the original work of the student. 

  • Essays must be double spaced and can be typed or legibly handwritten.

  • Essays and the required cover sheet must be submitted in PDF format.

  • Any quotations or copyrighted material used in the essay must be identified properly. Failure to identify non-original material will result in disqualification.

  • All participants must cite sources they used to research their topic throughout their essay. Please use parenthetical citations within the text. We can not accept citations in footnote form.

  • Essays must include a bibliography. Accepted formats include APA, MLA, or Turabian

Grades 6-9 Rules & Essay Details

  • Essays for students in 6th, 7th, 8th, or 9th grade must be between 400 and 500 words. Title, citations, and bibliography are not included in the word count. 

  • Essays for students in these grades must use a minimum of two selected sources.

Grades 10-12 Rules & Essay Details

  • Essays for students in 10th, 11th, or 12th grade must be between 700 and 1,000 words. Title, citations, and bibliography are not included in the word count.

  • Essays for students in these grades must use a minimum of five selected sources.


Judging Criteria

Total points possible: 15

  1. Content - Understanding of the topic: To what extent did the writer demonstrate a clear understanding of the essay prompt and respond with details about their ideas?

  2. Material Organization & Sources - Effectiveness in presenting a point-of-view, logical interpretation of the subject - clear thesis, and supporting ideas, and factual information

  3. Vocabulary, grammar and spelling - Uses vocabulary related to the transportation industry, use of grammar and spelling


Important Dates

January 29, 2024 

Essay submittal deadline at 11:59PM

March 11, 2024

Winners announced and prizes coordinated with winning students

April 30, 2024

All prizes must be claimed


On Writing

On Transportation



Questions about Writing

  • Who is my audience?

Your writing should be appropriate for all audiences and written to inspire your peers and community. The judges include MTI staff, educators, and industry professionals.

  • Can I use AI to help me write?

Although large language models can be a useful tool for brainstorming and even outlining, your essay needs to be your original work. It should not be plagiarized, generated by AI, or written by someone else. All quotations must be cited and sources included in your bibliography.

  • Can I submit more than once?

Each student can only submit to each contest once. You’re welcome to submit again next year!

  • Can my friend/sibling/someone else help me write?

Getting feedback from peers can be very helpful in the writing process, and your work must be reviewed and approved by your mentor/sponsor. Remember, however, that the work itself must be 100% your original work. It should not be plagiarized, generated by AI, or written by someone else. All quotations must be cited and sources included in your bibliography.

  • Can I use ProWritingAid/Grammarly/Spellcheck to check my work?

Your essay must be your original work, but yes, please do use spell check!

  • Can I use an essay I already wrote?

This essay must be written specifically for this contest and not previously published.

Questions about the Rules

  • How will I know if my entry has been received?

You will receive an email response noting that we have received your entry after the submission deadline. Please contact us if submitted before the deadline but you have not heard from us three days after the deadline, or if you have any questions.

  • Who do I contact if I have any questions?

Please reach out to Alverina Weinardy at with any questions.

Questions about Judging

  • Who are the judges?

Judges include MTI staff, transportation industry professionals, and educators. Judges have extensive industry experience, advanced degrees, teaching experience, etc. that make them uniquely qualified.

  • How do you decide the winners?

Judges use specifically tailored criteria developed by educators and professional writers. The criteria includes content, organization and materials, and grammar and spelling. You can learn more about the criteria in the Rules section under “Judging Criteria.” 


Teacher and Mentor Resources



Contact Us

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