Teen drivers across the state were responsible for 1,744 fatal crashes between 2006 and 2010, with 83 of those happening in Sacramento County. Injury crashes statewide during the same time period totaled 131,502, with 6,654 of them in Sacramento County. Researchers attribute the crashes to inexperience, combined with one or more of the five main risks that plague young drivers: driving at night, speeding, distractions (primarily cell phones, texting and other teen passengers), lack of seat belt use, and alcohol.
The students and administrators expect good things from their Teens in the Driver Seat program, because it’s the students themselves who are carrying the message. “As young people, we listen to each other, and we’re influenced a lot by our friends,” says Marsela Young, one of the program leaders at Franklin. “And we know that any message is always going to mean a lot more if it comes from someone our own age.”
Teens in the Driver Seat is one of the nation’s first, and longest-lasting, peer-to-peer programs focused exclusively on driving safety. The program was developed by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), and is available to California high schools at no cost through funding provided by the University of California Berkeley Safe Transportation Research and Education Center with a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety and by State Farm. TTI provides the science, materials and support for the program, while each student group determines how the program will work in their school.
“The choices and habits new teen drivers make will be the ones they carry with them behind the wheel for life,” said Christopher J. Murphy, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. “At this age, learning safe habits from each other can often be the most effective way to avoid tragedies on the road.”
Teen driver crashes have been on a decline statewide and nationwide in recent years, but researchers note that the growing problem of distracted driving stands in the way of continued improvement. Statewide studies funded by the California OTS showed that observed cell phone use among 16- to 24-year-olds doubled from 9 percent in 2011 to 18 percent in 2012.
The percentage for drivers age 25-69 increased as well, but not as dramatically – from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent.
“We are very happy to be a new partner here and to provide another tool in the toolbox to help continue California’s reduction in teen driver crashes.” says Russell Henk, creator and director of Teens in the Driver Seat. “The state’s improvement in recent years has been impressive, and we’re determined to help it continue.”