By Gabriella Medina
In the past three years, commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes have increased in Texas by 29 percent in the Permian Basin and 55 percent in the Eagle Ford Shale regions. Between 2011 and 2012, such crashes involved an estimated 2,006 drivers under the age of 26.
In response to the increase in crashes concurrent with the oil and gas boom, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) put out a high-priority call for proposals to address the issue of novice driver safety around large vehicles (e.g., commercial vehicles and buses.)
Russell Henk, director of the Youth Transportation Safety Program and founder of Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) program, and his team of TDS experts were awarded $114,000 by FMCSA to encourage safe interactions between teen drivers and large trucks. TDS is a peer-to-peer traffic safety program established in 2002 based at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI).
“TDS already has the established statewide network to reach out to teens in Texas,” explains Henk. “We can easily coordinate with schools and use existing web/media platforms to get the word out.”
The project is a web-based, hands-on outreach campaign called “Respect the Rig” that shares truck facts, safe driving tips, known crash risks and messaging that conveys respect for truck drivers to the teen audience. “What we’ve found with TDS is that when teens have information to make better decisions about driving safety, they’re more likely to make those better decisions,” says Henk. “With this outreach program, we hope teens will be more careful when they drive in the vicinity of large trucks.”
As part of its research effort to determine the dangerous driving behaviors truckers have noticed by teen drivers and its Respect the Rig campaign to build mutual respect between truckers and teens, TDS partnered with Truckers Report to hold a Twitter chat. Truckers identified mobile phone use behind the wheel, tailgating trucks and passing trucks with little time before an exit as particularly dangerous behaviors they’ve seen on the road.
Lisa Minjares-Kyle serves as the TDS Southeast Texas regional representative assisting with managing the grant. “This area has seen an increase in CMV traffic and worsening road conditions, making targeted outreach and education a priority for the region. I’m glad we were able to respond to this need in our state while supporting our overall TDS mission of reducing the number of teen-driver crashes.”
TDS is coordinating high school-safety fairs with the Texas Department of Transportation and local police departments in regions experiencing heavy truck traffic. The first event is Friday, March 11, 2016, at Lyford High School from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Lyford, Texas, is a town on the edge of the Eagle Ford Shale region. TDS is planning similar events across Texas to help young drivers become more aware of their surroundings when big trucks are present.
“I feel that this campaign is a valuable tool in FMCSA’s efforts to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities on our nation’s roadways,” says USDOT-FMCSA Programs Manager, Rodney Baumgartner. “TDS’s peer-to-peer model has proven very effective and I thank everyone, especially the teens, for their participation in, and support for, this important program.”