Universities launch peer-based safe driving program

SAN ANTONIO —Impaired driving is a persistent problem in Texas, particularly among college students. A new peer-based program aims to change that — Texas A&M University-San Antonio and the University of the Incarnate Word have started the U in the Driver Seat (UDS) program, which organizers hope to eventually spread statewide.

Car crashes are the number-one killer of Americans under the age of 25, and alcohol use stands out as one of the most common contributors to these crashes. In an effort to reverse this alarming trend, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) developed a peer-driven outreach program focused on this high-risk group. The program is modeled after TTI’s successful Teens in the Driver Seat® (TDS) program, a peer-to-peer safety program for America’s youth that has been implemented in more than 500 Texas high schools.

A review of crash statistics in Texas illustrates the severity of the impaired driving problem for young people.

  • Across Texas in 2011, drivers under the age of 25 were responsible for 21 percent of all alcohol-related fatal crashes – the highest percentage of any age group.
  • A total of 256 people under age 25 were killed in alcohol-related crashes.

The problem in Texas is reflective of nationwide trends, according to the Texans Standing Tall 2011 Report Card on Higher Education. “The negative consequences of excessive and underage alcohol use affect students physically, socially, and academically,” according to the report. “Alcohol impaired judgment often results in underage students putting themselves in risky situations.”

  • More than 1,800 students between the ages of 18 and 24 die each year from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including those resulting from car crashes, and another 600,000 students are injured.
  • 35 percent of college and university students nationwide reported that they engaged in binge drinking.

“The STARS Peer Educators and other campus student leaders decided that U in the Driver Seat would become a key focus for our health education program at the University of the Incarnate Word,” says Samantha Buentello, one of the program leaders. “Our U in the Driver Seat team wants to share the message with our peers about the most common causes of driving accidents among the 18-24 age group. Drinking and driving is one of our major concerns.”

More than 8,000 Americans between the ages of five and 24 die every year in traffic crashes — the number-one cause of death, by far, for this age group.

Unlike other safety initiatives targeting young people behind the wheel, UDS involves college students directly to help develop and deliver the right safety messages. And the program enjoys support at the highest levels.

“We are proud to join with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and the University of the Incarnate Word on such an important program to raise awareness of safe driving for students of all ages,” said Dr. Maria Hernandez Ferrier, president of Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

TTI developed UDS and provides the science, materials and support for the progra0m, while each student group determines how the program will work in its school. Funding is provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Young people have a lot of influence on each other,” says Russell Henk, director of the TDS program. “The U in the Driver Seat program is designed to help ensure that the influence is positive.”

Learn more about the program at U-driver.com.