During a news conference in Austin on July 27, Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Director Dennis Christiansen and the Chair of the House Committee on Public Health, State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, touted the connection between the Institute’s Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS) program and the dramatic decline in teen fatalities in Texas.
The state capital event was planned after a TTI study examined teen fatal crash rates in 37 states, all of which had a Graduated Driver License (GDL) law in place for at least five years. (GDL laws place restrictions on new drivers, such as how late they can drive at night or how many passengers they can have in the car.) The study found that teen fatalities in Texas dropped 32 percent from 2002 through 2007 — more than any other state and twice the national average over that time span. (View the study’s white paper [PDF] online.)
Rep. Kolkhorst, who co-authored the GDL legislation, told the media that the TDS program deserves much of the credit for lowering the teen death rate because “this is something we can teach and we can empower these drivers to control their destiny.”
Teens in the Driver Seat, which began in 2003, is a peer-to-peer public awareness campaign in which teenagers encourage their friends to drive safer by being aware of the causes of teen crashes–driving at night, cell phone use and having too many kids in their car. TDS has been implemented in 300 Texas high schools and reached over 250,000 teens.
“Our research team found that a Graduated Drivers License law can be made more effective when it is reinforced by a peer-to-peer effort like the Teens in the Driver Seat program,” Christiansen said. “We have made great progress, but there is much more to be done.”
According to the TTI study, 625 teenagers were killed in Texas crashes in 2002. In 2007, the number dropped to 419 following a steady decline in each of the previous years.
TDS Director Russell Henk outlined a case study of the impact of the TDS program showing that young drivers have reduced cell phone use by 30 percent and increased seat belt use by 14 percent. Assessments also show that program participants have boosted their knowledge of the most common driving dangers by up to 200 percent. Those improvements have helped to reduce fatal teen crashes, Henk said.
Even so, car crashes remain the leading cause of death of young people.
“This is an epidemic in many ways,” Kolkhorst said. “It is a bona fide public health problem because it’s the number one killer of our teenagers.”