SAVANNAH, Georgia – A large percentage of local teens admit to engaging in risky driving habits, according to a recent survey, so they’ve launched the peer-to-peer Teens in the Driver Seat® program to help each other become safer drivers.
More than 60,000 teen drivers in Georgia each year are involved in traffic crashes, by far the number-one killer of young people. 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, limited seat belt use, and alcohol.
Researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute surveyed H.V. Jenkins High School students. The findings illustrate how much they know about driving risk factors and how often they engage in risky driving behavior.
- Nighttime driving is the most common danger that young drivers face, yet it’s the one risk they know the least about. Only 11 percent of the teens surveyed were aware of the danger, yet 49 percent say they often drive late at night.
- Nearly three-fourths of the teens were aware that texting while driving is dangerous, yet a third of them say they do so “a lot.”
- Only a third recognize that speeding is dangerous, and 43 percent say they frequently exceed the speed limit by more than 10 miles per hour.
- On a more positive note, 77 percent recognize the danger of impaired driving, and even more – 86 percent – say they “never” drive after drinking.
Unlike other safety initiatives targeting young people behind the wheel, Teens in the Driver Seat involves students directly to help develop and deliver the right safety messages.
“Let’s remember that even though drunk driving has been against the law for a long time, there was a time when people still accepted it,” says Bryanna O’Reilly a program leader at Jenkins High School. “Then slowly but surely, drunk driving became something that more and more people would simply not accept.”
“We can do the same with distracted driving, but only if we change the way we think about it … only if we change our driving culture. To do that, we need to start with young drivers. That’s what Teens in the Driver Seat is all about.”
TTI developed Teens in the Driver Seat and provides the science, materials and support for the program, while each student group determines how the program will work in their school. It was originally launched in Texas, where more than 500 schools now have active programs. After a pilot effort at Duluth High School in 2007, the program has spread to nearly 50 more schools in Georgia, by far the most extensive deployment of the program outside of Texas.
Teen driver crashes have been on a decline statewide and nationwide in recent years, but teens’ prevalent use of cell phones threatens to stall that improvement. More than a third of teen drivers who were surveyed admit to talking or texting while driving, even though Georgia state law prohibits any form of wireless communication behind the wheel for drivers under age 18. TTI research has demonstrated that texting doubles a driver’s reaction time, making it much more difficult to avoid sudden hazards.
“Most young drivers don’t know that they’re far more likely to die in a crash than people in other age groups,” says Russell Henk of TTI, the program’s creator. “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 the nation’s first peer-to-peer program focused exclusively on driving safety, and it is available to Georgia schools through funding support from the Georgia Department of Transportation.