For immediate release: May 14, 2008
For more information: Tracy Tellman, 806-356-3295
Bernie Fette, 979-845-2623 (office) or 979-777-7532 (cell)
Students at Pampa High School are more likely to drive dangerously than other Texas high school students, even though they are generally more aware of the risks they face behind the wheel. As a result, the school is the first in the Panhandle to launch Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS), the nation’s first peer-to-peer safety program for young drivers.
More than 500 Texas teens die every year in traffic crashes. Texas Transportation Institute researchers attribute the crashes to inexperience, combined with one or more of the five main risks that plague young drivers: driving at night, distractions (primarily cell phones, texting and other teen passengers), speeding, low seat belt use, and alcohol.
TTI surveyed 521 Pampa HS students in April, and compared findings to surveys done at 34 other high schools across Texas. This statewide examination of teen driving behavior is the most extensive review of its kind ever done in Texas or in the United States.
Researchers say that in general Pampa students scored better in most awareness categories than other students in Texas, and that local students scored even higher when compared with students at other rural Texas high schools. The comparisons weren’t as favorable, however, when the survey considered actual driving behavior:
- Only about one percent of Pampa students recognize that driving at night is dangerous, and nearly half of them say they frequently drive after 10 p.m.
- More than 60 percent of local students know that it’s dangerous to talk or text on a cell phone while driving, but about 40 percent of them do so anyway.
- Pampa students are much more likely to drive or ride without a seat belt or drive after drinking, even though they’re much more aware of those dangers than other students across the state.
More than 6,000 U.S. teens die every year in traffic crashes – the number one cause of death, by far, for this age group.
“It’s like a commercial jet loaded with teenagers crashing to the ground every week for an entire year,” say Kristen Dunn and Garrett Couts, the student leaders of the Pampa TDS program. “But that’s not how these tragedies happen; they happen one or two at a time, which is why this problem isn’t getting the attention we believe it deserves. Through Teens in the Driver Seat, we intend to change that.”
Unlike other safety initiatives targeting young people behind the wheel, TDS involves teens directly to help develop and deliver the right safety messages.
“Numerous studies – and our own experience – tell us that teenagers listen to each other much more than they listen to adults,” said State Rep. Warren Chisum, who joined the students for their announcement. “What better way then, to make them safer on the roadways, than to have them carry the message of safety and awareness to each other?”
TTI developed TDS and provides the science, materials and support for the program, while each student group determines how the program will work in their school.
“Most young drivers don’t know that they’re 10 times more likely to die in a crash than people in other age groups,” says Randy Hopmann, the interim Amarillo District Engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation. “But they need to hear the message from a source they trust; they need to hear it from each other. That’s what Teens in the Driver Seat is all about.”
The Teens in the Driver Seat program is offered to Texas schools at no cost through funding support from TxDOT and State Farm Insurance.
“These alarming teen driver statistics are an unfortunate reality that affects us all. We, at State Farm, feel an urgency to make our young drivers aware of the many risks and responsibilities that come with driving,” said State Farm representative Jamie Smith. “Driving is not a right, but rather a privilege. Being a new driver is an exciting experience for a teen; we want to make sure it is a safe one as well.”
Schools interested in starting the program can learn more at www.t-driver.com.