Teen traffic fatalities are seeing a sharp drop in Texas, and researchers say that part of the credit for the first time goes to an unlikely source—teenagers themselves. Involvement in Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS), the nation’s first peer-to-peer safety program for young drivers developed by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), is one way teens are getting the word out to one another.
The most recent federal statistics show the number of fatalities among 13-19 year-old drivers and passengers in Texas is down from 549 in 2002 to 424 in 2006. The decline of 125 deaths, or 22.8 percent, is the highest total decrease in the U.S., the largest percentage drop among the nation’s biggest states and nearly twice the national average of 12.4 percent. About 6,000 teens die each year in crashes, the leading cause of death for that age group.
Another important measure—the number of teenage drivers involved in fatal crashes—has also been on the decline. That number dropped 27 percent in Texas, as compared to 13 percent nationwide, from 2002 to 2006.
This downward trend was explored Friday, October 24, at the first-ever Teens in the Driver Seat Summit—held during National Teen Driver Safety Week—in San Antonio. This gathering of some 200 teen leaders and safety professionals exceeded expectations for enthusiasm from teen advocates and safety professionals alike.
“This is remarkable progress,” said U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in his address to Summit attendees. Rodriguez has championed the teen driver safety issue in southwest Texas. “The teen driver safety problem is nothing less than a public health crisis, so it’s truly encouraging to see that we’re making such significant progress on this front.”
To explain likely reasons for the trend, safety advocates point out that in the five-year period measured, Texas has seen only two major developments involving young drivers: the enactment of a graduated driver licensing (GDL) law and the introduction of Teens in the Driver Seat.
“The recent news about teen crash fatalities in Texas is very positive,” said Russell Henk, director of the TDS Program at TTI. “This progress in Texas strongly suggests that together, a GDL law and the TDS program can be a powerful one-two punch in the battle to reduce the number of young people dying on our roads.”
Early evaluations of the TDS program show that TDS schools reflect increased awareness of key driving risks ranging from 23 percent to 1,300 percent. Field studies at the same schools showed a 30 percent drop in cell phone use while driving, and an 11 percent increase in seat belt use.
The TDS Program is sponsored in Texas by the Texas Department of Transportation and State Farm Insurance. New federal funding will provide for the expansion of the program to three additional states this school year.