For immediate release: December 20, 2007
For more information:
Ken Roberts, 254-867-2705 (office) or 254-405-2658 (cell)
Bernie Fette, 979-845-2623 (office) or 979-777-7532 (cell)
WACO – Students at two McClennan County high schools are more aware of driving dangers than other Texas teenagers, according to a recent survey. Even so, those students still admit to risky driving behaviors, so the schools will soon go head to head in a challenge to improve safety on the road.
The findings are based on surveys at Connally High School and West High School conducted during the fall by the Teens in the Driver Seat Program of the Texas Transportation Institute.
Car crashes kill more young people each year than any other cause. Researchers say that driver inexperience is the root of the problem, made worse by one or more of five risk factors: driving at night, distractions (cell phones/texting and other teen passengers, etc.), speeding, low seat belt use, and alcohol.
The findings at Connally and West are largely consistent with those from other schools in Texas.
- Fewer than three percent of students understand that driving at night is unsafe, but roughly one-third of them routinely drive after 10 p.m.
- A fourth of the students recognize that having too many young passengers is dangerous, but roughly a third say that they travel that way frequently.
- More than half of the students realize that it’s dangerous to use a cell phone behind the wheel, but roughly a fourth of them do so anyway.
On the bright side, the students at both Connally and West tend to engage in some dangerous driving habits less frequently than students surveyed at several other rural schools in Texas. The surveys show they are less likely than other rural teens to drive late at night, use cell phones or send and receive text messages while driving. Conversely, students at both schools are slightly more likely to drive after drinking or drive without wearing a seat belt, and students in West admit to speeding more often.
The students say they know they can be safer drivers, so student leaders at the two rival schools have issued a challenge to see which student body can bring about the biggest safety improvement. Both schools have started Teens in the Driver Seat, America’s first peer-to-peer safety program for young drivers. Unlike other programs, TDS relies on teenagers themselves to develop and deliver safety messages. TDS is available to Texas high schools through funding provided by the Texas Department of Transportation and State Farm Insurance. TxDOT has invested $900,000 for the program statewide this year, while State Farm has committed $100,000 annually for five years.
“Our two schools have been rivals for a long time, but the competition we are taking part in today is much more important than any athletic competition we have ever been a part of,” says Brandt Roessler, a student from West High School. “This time we are competing to save lives.”
Researchers plan to survey the students at Connally and West again later in the school year to measure any improvements in awareness and behavior. An analysis at several Texas schools shows the TDS program to be effective in changing young driver behavior. Cell phone use by drivers at those schools dropped by 30 percent after students became active in the cause. In addition, seat belt use increased by about 10 percent at those schools.
Car crashes kill about 6,000 teens nationwide each year.
“That’s the equivalent of a commercial jet loaded with teenagers crashing to the ground every week for an entire year,” says Russell Henk, a TTI Research Engineer and the Program Director for TDS. “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. Teens in the Driver Seat intends to change that.”