It can be one of the most frightening moments for a parent, watching your newly licensed teen drive away on their own for the first time. It remains a fact that nationwide, a teenager is killed or injured in a traffic crash every three days.
And teen drivers have higher rates of fatal crash involvement than any other age group. Studies show teens are more likely to take risks, be distracted or be nervous while driving.
That's why the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Governor's Highway Safety Office, Tennessee Highway Patrol and other partners are working to give teens the tools they need to become safer drivers.
In 2006, TDOT launched "Between the Barrels," our first-ever teen safe driving program with a goal of saving lives through education. Each year, Between the Barrels representatives and Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers travel to high schools across the state and talk with teens about making smart decisions behind the wheel and what can happen if they don't. More than 100,000 have participated in the program to date and teens themselves tell us the program is working.
We've heard from students like Spencer Thomas Scott from Waverly Central High School who attended a Between the Barrels presentation and decided to begin wearing his seatbelt.
One day, Spencer clicked his belt into place and moments later, his car left the roadway and flipped several times. He lived through the crash likely because he made the decision to wear his safety belt. He's just one of dozens of teens who've told us they are better drivers because of what they learned from our program. [For more information on the program or to book a presentation at your school, click here.]
The Department of Safety reports that preliminary statistics for 2009 indicate 48 teen drivers were killed on Tennessee roadways compared to 72 in 2008. Overall, 90 teenagers who were vehicle occupants were killed on Tennessee roadways in 2009 compared to 113 in 2008. During the past three years we've seen a 25 percent decrease in teen traffic fatalities overall.
But while these numbers are encouraging, we are still losing too many of our young people on Tennessee highways. We need to intensify our efforts with an ultimate goal of zero teen lives lost in traffic crashes. In addition to supporting the Between the Barrels program the Governor's Highway Safety Office also supports teen driving programs like Think Fast, Ford Driving Skills for Life, presentations by Blake McMeans and TSSAA's The RIGHT TEAM, which spoke to more than 40,000 high school students in 2009.
As we move through this new year, I encourage parents to talk to their teens about safe driving and to lead by example by practicing safe driving habits. TDOT, the THP and the Governor's Highway Safety Office will continue our efforts to save lives on Tennessee roadways this year.
Nicely is commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation