For information: Jill Goldberg, 404-631-1828 (office) – Georgia DOT;Cindy Ball, 770-860-4226 (office) – Rockdale County Schools; Bernie Fette, 979-777-7532 (cell) – Texas Transportation Institute
CONYERS, Georgia – Local teens are largely unaware of the dangers they face as new drivers, 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 50,000 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, low seat belt use, and alcohol.
Researchers at the Texas Transportation Institute surveyed Rockdale High School students in February, 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 3 percent of the teens surveyed were aware of the danger, yet 25 percent say they often drive after late at night.
- Nearly three-fourths of those surveyed recognize that talking or texting on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, but nearly one in five of them say they do it anyway.
- Only 9 percent recognize that riding without a seatbelt is dangerous, and just over half say that they have ridden as passengers without buckling up.
- Fewer than 20 percent of teens surveyed could name more than three of the top five dangers.
Researchers conducted a similar survey at Duluth High School in 2007. Results suggest that Rockdale students are generally more aware of driving dangers, especially with respect to cell phone use while driving, a problem which has received increased attention in recent years.
Unlike other safety initiatives targeting young people behind the wheel, TDS involves teens directly to help develop and deliver the right safety messages.
“As young people, we listen to each other and we are influenced a lot by our friends,” says Gedieon Addisu, a leader of the TDS program at Rockdale High School. “Any message is always going to mean a lot more if it comes from someone your own age. That’s what makes the TDS program work.”
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. TDS was originally launched in Texas, where more than 400 schools now have active programs. After a pilot effort at Duluth High School in 2007, the program has spread to several more schools, most recently at Rockdale.
Teen driver crashes have been on a decline statewide and nationwide in recent years, but the percentage of teen-driver fatal crashes happening at night in Georgia is up by 18 percent – nearly twice the national average – underscoring how nighttime driving is the greatest danger facing young drivers.
“Most young drivers don’t know that they’re far more likely to die in a crash than people in other age groups,” says Program creator Russell Henk of TTI. “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.
“The Department is pleased to be a partner in helping to promote teen driving safety,” said GDOT Commissioner Vance C. Smith, Jr. “Reducing accidents for everyone on our roadways is an important goal for the Department, and we are proud to work with young people to give them the tools to help educate each other about being safe when driving, whether they are behind the wheel or just passengers.”
Schools interested in starting the program can learn more at www.t-driver.com.