The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) award-winning Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) program recognized teen advocates as champions of young driver safety at the 2021 TDS Safe Driving Summit held in May. Second only to teen suicide, car crashes kill more teens in the United States aged 15 to 18 than any other cause.
Founded in 2002 and recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, TDS is a peer-to-peer safety program that educates teens about the dangers of teen driving to help them develop safer driving habits and avoid crashes. Thanks to funding from multiple sponsors, including the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and State Farm, program resources and technical support are available at no cost to schools.
The summit kicked off with the annual All-Star Awards, which reward schools exceling at TDS-approved activities aimed at raising safety awareness. Schools earn points for completing activities and can receive cash awards up to $1,000. TDS recognized 27 different schools around the nation this year.
“The power of TDS has always been in its reliance on peers helping peers,” notes Russell Henk, founder of TDS and manager of TTI’s Youth Transportation Safety Program. “These young folks are not only leaders — they’re lifesavers.”
Restrictions on travel and social interaction imposed by COVID-19 required a virtual summit in 2021 — the first of its kind in TDS history. TDS personnel leveraged the format to offer a month-long series of activities and seminars; sessions covered topics like vaping, using cell phones while driving, and speeding.
“Each of you are inspiring others your age to drive safer and help save the lives of everyone out there on our roadways,” State Farm Agent Jenny Weidner told award winners. “State Farm is proud to add our most sincere congratulations for your efforts.”
Over 450 attendees from Texas, Georgia, Nebraska and Indiana registered for the summit. Participants represented a mix of students, teachers and traffic safety professionals.
“Your lives, your safety and your futures are important to us in all the work you and your peers have put in over the past year to be recognized here today,” Terry Pence, director of TxDOT’s Traffic Safety Section of the Traffic Safety Division, told attendees.
In 2022, TDS will celebrate 20 years of success in promoting teen driving safety. The program now extends from its birthplace in Texas to 14 other states, reaching more than 1.5 million students in 1,800 high schools nationwide.