The phrases “peer pressure” and “spreading like wildfire” tend to carry negative connotations, yet for the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI‘s) Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS) program, those phrases are signs of success.
With funding from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Section 402 program and State Farm Insurance, the TDS program began in 2003 to help combat the number-one killer of teenagers in Texas — car crashes. A number of impressive milestones were accomplished this past year, and for TDS that means more teen lives were saved.
“When developing the TDS program, we felt peer influence was an important aspect of keeping teen drivers safe that was being overlooked,” states Russell Henk, TDS director and TTI senior research engineer. “Any success the program experiences is a credit to all of the TDS teens that not only serve as message carriers, but are also involved in the developmental stages.”
Prior to 2009, many great strides had been made with TDS as the number of program schools steadily increased, and it began to reach outside of Texas to other states. High expectations were set for 2009 as TDS aimed to add 125 new program schools, which would increase the number of program schools by more than 25 percent in a single year. The goal was not only reached but surpassed by a huge margin, with a little over 200 schools added in 2009. The program is now in more than 300 schools in Texas and a dozen others in Connecticut, California and Georgia.
Other accomplishments included being honored with one of the most distinguished national safety awards available — a Roadway Safety Award sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the Roadway Safety Foundation. This was the third national award TDS has received, with the other two coming in 2006 and 2007.
Six other awards were received in 2009 for the program’s TV and public service announcement campaigns including two Telly awards, two Davey awards and two Videographer awards. TDS also published research findings that generated national press coverage, including in USA Today and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, which highlighted the success and progress of the program.
The program also left its mark on the public policy front. During the recent session of the Texas Legislature, TDS leadership worked with staff in the state capitol on efforts that led to the strengthening of the state’s graduated driver license (GDL) law in late 2009. That GDL law was recently upgraded from “fair” to “good,” according to ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“This past year’s accomplishments are extremely encouraging because they confirm that the program is working, growing in reach and popularity, and saving lives,” Henk said. “What is truly exciting is that we feel there is still much more to accomplish, and new components are always being evaluated and added to help carry the program’s success forward.”
2009 also marked the establishment of the TDS Teen Advisory Board, made up of teens across Texas who help guide the ongoing development and growth of TDS. A junior high component of the TDS program was initiated last year to educate kids on how to be a safer car passenger and a safer driver before they even get behind the wheel. TDS also unveiled a new website late in 2009 that is more interactive. The new design encourages teens to contribute material to the site by providing them an open forum to discuss issues related to teen driving.
“Using the influence of peer to peer seems to be a positive way to get our traffic safety messages to our Texas teen drivers,” says Tracie Mendez, TxDOT TDS program manager. “We are always open to innovative ways that could benefit our primary focus to reduce the vehicle crashes, fatalities and injuries among this age group.”