For immediate release: 10:00 a.m. on October 30, 2007
For more information: Bernie Fette, 979-845-2623 (office) or 979-777-7532 (cell)
Driving in Texas is about to get a lot more dangerous for teenagers beginning this weekend. To make matters worse, the most comprehensive study so far about teen driving reveals that young drivers aren’t even aware of the danger.
The release of the study findings comes just days before the annual end of Daylight Saving Time. Nearly two-thirds of teen crashes happen between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. When clocks are set back an hour, the nighttime risk becomes an issue even earlier in the evening, say young people who are working to raise risk awareness among their peers.
“Nighttime driving is at the top of the danger list, but it’s at the bottom of the awareness list,” says Krizia Martinez, a spokesperson for Teens in the Driver Seat at the Texas Transportation Institute. “We’re working to change that, because if we can help other young drivers really understand the dangers they face, we can help them drive more safely.”
Teens in the Driver Seat is the nation’s first peer-to-peer safety program for young drivers. Unlike other programs, TDS involves young drivers directly in developing and delivering safety messages. The TDS Program (www.t-driver.com) is available to Texas high schools at no cost through support provided by the Texas Department of Transportation and State Farm Insurance of Texas.
“TDS is about partners working together to save young lives,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Hope Andrade. “We all have a role to play – the public sector, private business, lawmakers, and most importantly, the teens themselves.”
TTI researchers surveyed more than 4,400 teens at 17 Texas high schools over the past year to determine how much they knew about driving risk factors, and how often they engaged in risky driving behaviors. The findings bring new understanding to the reasons behind the number-one cause of death for teenagers in the U.S.
- Fewer than one percent of Texas teens understand that driving at night is unsafe, while almost half say they routinely drive after 10 p.m.
- Only a third of teens recognize that it’s dangerous to talk or text on a cell phone while they drive, and roughly half of them admit to doing so frequently.
- 72 percent of teens cite alcohol or drug use more often than any other risk factor, even though those factors rank fifth on the list of crash causes.
“These are alarming, but very real statistics and as a leader in auto safety, at State Farm we feel an urgency to make our young drivers aware of the increased risk driving will present as the days become shorter,” said Ronnie Lee Vandiver, Marketing Manager, State Farm Texas Zone. “We want our teenagers to be aware of the risks so they can stay safe this winter.”
Car crashes kill about 6,000 teens nationwide each year, with Texas accounting for some 500 of that total, in what has been increasingly described as an “epidemic” in recent years. Researchers say the crashes are caused primarily by inexperience combined with one or more of five risk factors, in this order of frequency: driving at night, distractions (cell phones/texting and other teen passengers, etc.), speeding, low seat belt use, and alcohol. Fewer than 40 percent of the students surveyed could name three of the risks correctly, 10 percent were able to name four, and fewer than 1 percent could name all five.
The survey findings also suggest that the problem can be worse depending on where you live. The teens surveyed in rural areas:
- Are twice as likely to talk on a cell phone or send and receive text messages while driving,
- Are more than three times more likely to have received a speeding ticket, and
- Are more likely to drive at night.
“Teens in the Driver Seat is about peer-to-peer communication,” says Tabitha Zant, a Mason High School student and member of Teens in the Driver Seat. “Most of the time, teens don’t listen to adults, but we will listen to each other.”
An analysis at several of the schools in the TTI study 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.