In the past three years, commercial motor vehicle crashes have increased 29 percent in the Permian Basin and 55 percent in the Eagle Ford Shale regions of Texas.
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 the Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) program, and his team of 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. Since its inception in Texas, TDS has expanded to over 1 million student drivers in more than 1,000 high schools in 38 states.
“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. 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 was March 11, 2016, at Lyford High School in Lyford, Texas, a town on the edge of the Eagle Ford Shale region. In the coming year, 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 U.S. Department of Transportation-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.”