2011 Winner: Teens in the Driver Seat

Peter K. ORourke Special Achievement Awards
Teens in the Driver Seat

Teens in the Driver Seat (TDS) is a peer-to-peer safety program for young drivers. It was implemented to bring a fresh approach to teen driver safety, making teens directly responsible for both the development and delivery of traffic safety messages to their peers. TDS differs from other safety programs in two ways. First, it focuses on all of the major risks for teen drivers instead of focusing exclusively on alcohol or any other single factor. Second, it relies on members of the target audience to develop and deliver messages to their peers.

The program was developed in Texas in 2002. Since then, the state has seen a 40 percent decrease in the frequency of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes. In fact, Texas has seen this figure decline each consecutive year from 2002 to 2010. In recent years, both teen traffic fatalities and the frequency of 16- to 19-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes are down roughly 33 percent.

This steady decline is especially noteworthy given the obstacles faced. Texas is one of only a few states permitting teens to secure a license through parent-taught driver education. Until recently, Texas’ GDL law was rated only “fair” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, while 33 other states’ laws were “good.” And until last year, Texas did not require an on-road driving test for novice drivers seeking a license.

TDS achieved several noteworthy accomplishments during 2010. It grew by 20 percent, adding more than 100 schools to its active roster. The program now has more than 500 active schools, reaching more than 500,000 students across Texas.

Additionally, last year saw the expansion of Teens in the Driver Seat to 20 schools in Connecticut, Georgia and North Carolina. The program also established a partnership with the Pan American Health Organization / World Health Organization to focus on international expansion.

Teens in the Driver Seat built upon this successful peer-to-peer dynamic in 2010 by re-working the program website and expanding its social media presence. It also introduced a contest awarding prizes for the best teendeveloped posters and video messages, as well as the best overall TDS school program. Winning schools earned cash prizes to expand their program. All winning and honorable mention entries are available for other schools to use through the program website, reinforcing the peer-to-peer element.

All this was accomplished while the program received a 50 percent budget reduction in the middle of the program year, which made it impossible to continue at its established pace. Instead, the program assumed a maintenance mode while also pursuing funding from foundations and other potential sponsors. Funding from new public and private sources was obtained, and the program continued to achieve success.

The Teens in the Driver Seat program has become a clear example of the traffic safety culture movement and what it can achieve, especially in a time of limited resources. It has made a positive impact in Texas, and its influence is beginning to be felt in other states.

For more information, contact program director Russell Henk at r-henk@tamu.edu 
or visit www.t-driver.com.