The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Youth Transportation Safety (YTS) program — part of the Institute’s Center for Transportation Safety — is active in schools and communities across the country. The program supports peer-led road safety education and outreach to encourage young drivers to practice safe driving behaviors.
When schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, fulfilling that mission became significantly more difficult. The YTS team found creative ways to produce innovative content that still reaches their target audiences — teen- and college-aged youth — by transitioning their message to a virtual environment.
Before the pandemic, YTS staff would typically give presentations in schools, providing hands-on education activities about traffic safety. This spring, the team turned to YouTube, creating TDS Talks, a YouTube video series emphasizing the top teen driver risks. At less than 15 minutes each, the videos serve as primers for traffic safety best practices.
YTS staff also used social media, where youth spend most of their time. Their strategy focused on engaging (and providing transportation safety information to) students, parents, teachers and safety partners by facilitating easy ways to share content with others. On April 9, for example, Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) — a YTS program that empowers teens to change unsafe behaviors through positive peer pressure — hosted a pedestrian and bicycle Twitter chat using the hashtag #CallingAllRoadUsers. This chat focused on pedestrian and bicycle safety, and enabled teens to learn from experts in the field. TDS held a second Twitter chat on April 21 focused on big rig and bus safety using #RespectTheRig. Both chats were well received.
TDS further expanded its efforts using Instagram TV (IGTV) to deliver weekly program updates, educational videos and motivational messaging to teens. Along with IGTV, TDS is producing weekly Instagram story challenges and messaging adapted for Internet delivery. The YTS team developed trivia challenges using Kahoot!, a trivia platform for students, that offer fun educational opportunities highlighting impaired driving and top driving risks. The team also prepared a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Digital Learning Toolkit, among other innovative materials, to share with target audiences. The YTS team produced similar virtual learning materials through their U in the Driver Seat program aimed at college-aged constituents.
“Despite the challenges we’ve all faced during the pandemic, YTS staff are working hard to ensure young drivers, their parents and our safety partners continue to receive reliable information in a timely way to help reduce the number of crashes involving young drivers,” explains TTI Senior Research Engineer Russell Henk, YTS program manager. “Now our audiences can learn how to drive safely from the comfort of their own homes.”