Nearly 200 student leaders from Texas and around the nation attended the annual Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS) Summit held May 15-17, 2016, at the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas. TDS, a peer-to-peer teen driver safety program, brought together a variety of teen traffic safety experts and interactive safety exhibits, as well as recognized students and other program partners for their dedication to improving teen driver safety in their local communities. Recognition at the event included a wide variety of awards as well as college scholarships.
“Each year we bring our student advocates together to show appreciation for their efforts to champion safer driving behaviors to their peers,” says TDS Director Russell Henk, manager of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s Youth Transportation Safety Program.
About 2,800 U.S. teens die each year in car crashes; that’s the equivalent of a school bus loaded with teenagers crashing once every week for an entire year. Since Henk founded TDS in 2002, the program has won more than 20 local, state and national awards and is recognized as a national best practice program for teen driver safety. During that same period, Texas has seen a 70 percent decrease in the frequency of fatal crashes involving 15- to 17-year-old drivers to date.
Teens attending the summit participated in informational sessions and activities to educate and encourage them to be safer drivers. Activities included TDS’s DWI simulator, which demonstrates the adverse impacts of impaired driving. Students also drove pedal karts through an obstacle course while wearing Fatal Vision (drunk) goggles, where they learned firsthand the effects of alcohol on vision and motor skills. A feature of the obstacle course provided hands-on experience with the adverse impacts of texting while driving.
Much of what TDS has accomplished is made possible by a long-standing relationship with the Texas Department of Transportation and State Farm, which fund, among other things, TDS materials distributed in high schools at no charge to the schools.
“State Farm is a proud supporter of Teens in the Driver seat sustaining teen driver-safety conversations throughout the school year,” says Chris Pilcic, spokesman for State Farm. “As the largest automobile insurer in the United States, we have a commitment and responsibility to work for safer roadways, which is part of the State Farm heritage and who we are today.”
The event garnered unprecedented media coverage by multiple television stations, including the local FOX, CBS, and CW affiliates, and the Dallas Morning News.
“We’re gratified the media took such an interest in our event this year,” says Henk. “Our best spokespeople are the students themselves, who do a fantastic job getting the word out to their peers and the public alike.”