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Peer-to-Peer Drivers Education Program Saves Teen Lives in Texas

July 28, 2009 06:40 PM
by Shannon Firth
Driving deaths among teenagers in Texas have declined steadily in the last five years as a result of more effective driver’s license laws and an influential teen-centered education program.

Helping Teenagers Drive Safely

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The number of fatalities in Texas involving teen drivers decreased by 33 percent between 2002 and 2007, reported the Star Telegram, citing a study from the Texas Transportation Institute. The actual recorded decrease was from 625 deaths to 419.

Of the 36 states surveyed, those with a graduated driver’s license program—laws that grant driving privileges in stages over six months to a year—ranked “fair” or better by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, showed only about an 11 percent drop. Researchers credit Texas’s markedly greater success to a safe driving peer-to-peer campaign called Teens in the Driver Seat.

Bernie Fette, a co-author of the report, told the Star-Telegram, “The kids develop the messages, and they’re the messengers. Society has known for decades that kids are more likely to listen to each other than adults.”

According to the Teens in the Driver Seat Web site, programs “are organized and operated by the teenagers themselves at their individual high school” with support from the Texas Transportation Institute and the Texas Department of Transportation. The program was awarded the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials National President’s Safety Award in 2006.

It uses text messaging campaigns, a weekly newsletter and a “Driving the Message” video contest to raise awareness about the risks of driving for teenagers.

In May, Girls Scouts in Rio Grande partnered with the Teens in the Driver Seat Program through instructional, but fun activities. Safety demonstrations included a “‘beer goggle’ tricycle course” and a “roll over cage.”

Background: Risks to teen drivers

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers.  “Mile for mile, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers,” reported the NHTSA’s site.

Drunk driving ranked as the fifth cause of fatal accidents; the other four risk factors, in order, are driving at night, speeding, distractions and not wearing a safety belt, reported the Star Telegram.

According to the Teens in the Driver Seat Web site, which cited a 2003 study by Joshua T. Cohen and John D. Graham, cell phone distractions account for 2,600 fatalities from any age group each year.

Related Topic: Pessimism drives reckless behavior among teens

An age-old “teenage myth of invulnerability” assumes that teens’ recklessness comes from a belief in their immunity to harm.

A new study published in the July issue of Pediatrics magazine, however, revealed teens’ shockingly pessimistic views on their life expectancy: approximately 15 percent of the 20,000 teenagers surveyed believed they “had a good chance of dying before age 35,” The Associated Press reported.
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