As part of National Teen Driving Safety Week, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) Program is announcing that a generous grant from General Motors (GM) will help TDS reach even more teen drivers with its safety messaging next year.
These funds will support ongoing outreach efforts in Texas, where TDS was born, as well as Georgia, reaching some 230 high schools and 200,000 students. GM’s grant will also help TDS expand to reach teen audiences in the Midwest, specifically in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.
Since 2012, some 2,800 teens have died each year in car crashes — that’s the equivalent of a school bus loaded with teenagers crashing once every week for an entire school year. On a per-mile driven basis, teens are eight times more likely to die in their first six months of driving than adults, and for every American teen killed in a car crash, about 100 more are injured. In 2017, half of teen passenger deaths happened when another teenager is driving. Besides the human tragedy of teen deaths, the U.S. societal costs of these crashes amount to $30 billion per year.
Founded in 2002, TDS leverages peer pressure in a positive way to motivate teens to drive more safely by making them aware of the five most dangerous teen driving habits: driving at night; speeding and street racing; distractions, such as cell phones and teen passengers; not wearing a seat belt; and alcohol/drug use. Safety experts recruit, educate and inspire young drivers to engage their peers with safety messages and interactive programs that promote positive behavioral change. Educational materials — developed by YTS staff and focus-group tested with youth advisory boards – are provided free of charge to participating schools.
“Teen drivers today face more challenges behind the wheel than ever before,” explains TDS founder Russell Henk, a TTI senior research engineer and manager of TTI’s Youth Transportation Safety Program. “Smartphones, parties in the back seat, the glamourized ‘need for speed,’ and peer pressure to drive while under the influence are just a handful of dangers they face. But they can also make good decisions with the right information. Giving them that information and rewarding responsible behavior is what TDS is all about.”
One of the hallmarks of the program is capturing measurable outcomes to demonstrate the effectiveness of its sponsors’ investments. For the GM grant, the short-term outcomes are to
- Increase the awareness and knowledge of effective vehicle and road safety practices;
- Increase teen knowledge of teen traffic safety issues, methods and resources;
- Increase the rates of observed teen seat belt use; and
- Decrease the rates of teens driving while using electronic devices, such as cellphones.