Before they can drive a car themselves, younger teens can play a significant role in promoting safe driving by their older peers. They can even remind their parents what it means to be a model driver for their children by promoting safe driving as a passenger who depends on the driver to keep them safe. Realizing that a driver at any age who drives dangerously puts everyone in the vehicle at risk is an important life lesson for pre-driving teens. Empowering them to feel comfortable saying “Stop that—you’re putting my life at risk” is one goal of the program. Aimed at junior-high and middle-school students, the Teens in the Driver Seat—Jr. High program has adapted its very successful predecessor, Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS), which is aimed at driving-age teens in high school and beyond. TDS promotes safe driving practices—such as avoiding texting while driving and wearing seatbelts—via positive peer-group pressure. TDS has won numerous local, state and national recognitions for its work in promoting teen driving safety. “We want to make it cool to be safe,” explains Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Senior Research Engineer Russell Henk, who developed the program in 2002. “If you see your friends promoting driving safety, maybe you’ll think twice about risky behaviors yourself—that’s our thinking.” The junior-high program teaches pre-driving teens how to be both a safe passenger and, later on, a safer driver. By making them aware of the dangers of driving before they ever get behind the wheel, the program can prevent unsafe driving habits from ever forming. Like the original TDS program, the initiative uses positive peer pressure and incentives, such as awards for students and teachers, to promote the program’s five principles. These principles focus on
- describing the dangers of nighttime and drowsy driving,
- minimizing the distractions multiple passengers can cause,
- emphasizing the relationship between vehicle speed and stopping distance,
- highlighting the importance of wearing a safety belt, even in the back seat and
- letting teens know how to handle a driver impaired by drinking or drugs.
“It’s never too early to start good habits,” says TTI’s Stacey Tisdale, who administers the TDS website and represents the program nationwide. “Car crashes are the leading cause of death for ages 5 to 34—more than 18,000 people a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means a lot of children are dying in crashes that are, in many cases, preventable.” For more information on the TDS-Jr. High program, visit http://www.t-driver.com/jrhigh.