Driver Safety Program Steered By Teenagers, Not Adults

While teens across Texas realize the dangers of texting while driving, many of them do it anyway. The problem is just one of many risky driving habits prevalent among high school students, but teens at a school in Cypress — northwest of Houston — are working to change how their classmates behave behind the wheel. Wendy Siegle reports.
"He was going too fast and he veered off the road, and when he tried to get back on we fish tailed and flipped about six times."

Joey Mahan is a senior at Cypress Falls High School. One night last October a friend gave him a ride home after a party. It was late and his friend had been drinking. Mahan says his friend was speeding and running stop signs. Mahan was wearing his seatbelt, his friend wasn’t.

"When we were looking for him, we found him, he was half on the street and half on the grass."

His friend was in the hospital for a month. The crash really shook Mahan up. He says he wants others to learn from his experience and is now part of an initiative to curb reckless driving behavior at his school.

The Texas Transportation Institute is spearheading the program called Teens in the Driver Seat. TTI surveyed the students at Cy Falls about their driving habits in September and found that they are more likely than other Texas teens to engage in risky driving behavior- such as speeding talking on cell phones, driving late at night, and driving with too many teenage passengers in the car. The data was self-reported.

"It gives us a good snap-shot of where we are now and where we can focus and help — really it’s the teenagers that drive the program — where they can focus their messaging, to make the biggest positive impact."

Russell Henk is the director of the TTI program. He says teenagers are unaware how dangerous some of their driving habits are. He says nighttime driving is rarely considered risky among teenage drivers, yet half of teen fatalities happen at night. But because teenagers often ignore advice from adults, Henk says it’s important that the program be driven by students. Marci Erdeljac is a senior at Cy Falls and is part of Teens in the Drivers Seat.

"Young people often won’t listen to adults, but we will listen to each other. So we’re using positive peer pressure to save lives."

Erdeljac says she thinks the positive peer pressure is working. She says she no longer talks on her phone or sends messages while driving, and believes most of her classmates are beginning to improve the way they drive, too.

"I am very much more alert, I always think a second time, ‘Is this really important, is this more important than crashing my car or hurting someone?’"