For release: 2 p.m. CDT, July 27, 2009
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Peer program & GDL law help Texas lead U.S. in reducing teen crashes
The rate of fatal teen crashes is declining faster and more steadily in Texas than in any other state, thanks in part to a growing program that uses peer communication to reduce the dangers for young drivers, according to a new study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
The study examines the trend in states with at least five years of crash records available after implementation of a graduated driver license (GDL) law, and also illustrates the growth of the Teens in the Driver Seat program which augments the state’s 2002 GDL law. In those years, Texas has outpaced the other 36 states on a number of levels.
- The number of fatal crashes per 10,000 teenage drivers fell by 32.5 percent, the most of any of the states measured. Texas was also the only state to record a steady drop in the teen fatal crash rate for five straight years.
- The actual number of teen drivers in fatal crashes also dropped nearly 33 percent in Texas, while the average number for the nation’s other large states increased slightly.
- The improvement in Texas is three times greater than what should be expected from GDL laws alone.
- Benefits from GDL laws are typically limited to 16-year-old drivers, but significant improvement in Texas was seen in older teen drivers, as well.
- The decline in the fatal crash rate for teen drivers was more than five times greater than for the balance of Texas drivers.
Researchers and teen leaders assign much of the credit for the unusual trend in Texas to the Teens in the Driver Seat Program.
“We believe Teens in the Driver Seat is making a real difference in Texas,” said Albert Torres, Jr. of Laredo, a member of the TDS Teen Advisory Board. “Laws are important, but they can’t do the job alone, so young people have to be part of the solution, too.”
Torres and other teen advisors were joined on Monday by State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, who chairs the House Committee on Public Health. “This is one of the biggest public health problems we have ever faced,” Kolkhorst said. “But in Texas, we are leading the way in fighting a nationwide killer. As a co-author of the original graduated driver license law, I’m proud to see that our state’s approach to teen driving is saving lives.”
The TTI study examined federal data in all states where GDL laws have been in place for at least five years. The record in Texas is better than what should have been expected, researchers say, given two noteworthy obstacles the state faces. First, Texas doesn’t require an on-road driving test for new drivers, meaning that many 16-year-olds begin to drive without demonstrating that they’re up to the task. Second, the state allows parent-taught driver education, which research has shown to be linked to a fatal crash rate nearly three times higher than other driver education methods. More than a third of young drivers secure their license through parent-taught driver ed.
Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has shown that states with “fair” GDL laws can expect a fatal crash reduction of 11 percent. TTI researchers say the balance of the 33 percent reduction in Texas is due largely to the TDS program, which has been introduced in nearly 300 schools and reached a quarter million teens statewide. Russell Henk, a TTI Senior Research Engineer, outlined a case study of the program showing that young drivers have reduced cell phone use by 30 percent and increased seat belt use by 10 percent. Assessments also show that program participants have boosted their knowledge of the most common driving dangers by up to 200 percent. Those improvements have helped to reduce fatal teen crashes, Henk said.
“Our analysis shows that we have saved more than 200 young lives and saved more than $2 billion in Texas since the TDS program began,” Henk said of the TTI study. “If other states take advantage of our experience, we believe they can do the same.”
TTI plans to continue expansion of the program within – and beyond – Texas. “TTI has worked for years to better understand this problem, and now we know more than we ever have about how to address it,” TTI Director Dennis Christiansen said. “We’re committed to continued research and innovations to help fight the number-one killer of teenagers in America.”
TDS is the nation’s first grassroots peer safety program for young drivers. Unlike previous programs, it relies on teens to design and deliver safety messages. And in contrast to other programs that focus on a single risk, such as alcohol or safety belt use, TDS also emphasizes the dangers that are actually more common to young drivers: driving at night, speeding, and distractions created by cell phones, texting and other young passengers. Researchers say the program is the ideal complement to teen driving laws. “The lesson here is that laws can be more effective when they are reinforced by peer programs like Teens in the Driver Seat,” Henk said. “In the fight to stop the number-one killer of teenagers in America, GDL and TDS give us the perfect one-two punch.”
The TDS program is available free of charge to schools in Texas through partial funding support from State Farm Insurance. More information is available at www.t-driver.com.