By Howard B. Hall, Captain, Baltimore County, Maryland, Police Department
oung drivers are a demographic that is consistently overrepresented in traffic crashes. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in the United States. In fact, eight teenagers aged 16–19 died every day from motor vehicle injuries during 2009.1 Drivers in this age group are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than their older counterparts.2 This creates a tremendous need for countermeasures to address this growing problem.
Educational efforts have historically been used to target young drivers. Lack of experience contributes to their crashes, and effective messaging has the potential to affect their driving habits for the long term. Getting the right message in an effective format to young drivers is challenging. Traditional strategies, such as one-time school assemblies or presentations designed to scare young people, are not effective.3 Educators suggest that the elements of effective prevention education programs include involving the communities and the families, helping students recognize internal and external pressures, using interactive teaching methods, helping students develop refusal skills, and including at least eight sessions supported by at least three booster sessions.4 Schools alone should not be relied on to provide this type of prevention education. Schools are, however, an important partner in the effort to discourage substance abuse and promote safe driving.
Community Traffic Safety Program
The Baltimore County, Maryland, Community Traffic Safety Program (CTSP), which is coordinated by the Baltimore County Police Department, has recognized that community resources and law enforcement, in partnership with school officials, can provide effective programs to young drivers. In 2005, a partnership was formed with the Owings Mills, Maryland, High School, and the first Traffic Safety Week was held. A variety of programming, which was very well received, was provided to the students. This continued in 2006 as CTSP partners looked for ways to improve the program, in accordance with recommendations from educators. This led to the creation of the “I Am” program.
The “I Am” Program
The “I Am” program was created to provide an educational experience with a positive impact for high school students. A multidisciplinary team, including partners from the Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO), the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, Positive Alternatives to Dangerous and Destructive Decisions, the University of Maryland National Study Center, the Baltimore County Health Department, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Owings Mills High School, came together to create the program. It is based around repeatedly asking students the questions “Who is responsible when operating and riding in a vehicle?” and “Who is making good decisions and choices with regard to driving?” The answer to both is, of course, “I am.”
The “I Am” program comprises a weeklong series of activities with a subsequent follow-up. The week starts with a mock crash in front of the school as students are arriving. Role players are used to simulate not only victims but involved drivers. Members of a local fire company and police respond as they would to an actual crash scene. This includes victim extrication and treatment, removal of the deceased, and investigation of the crash. This scenario is intended to grab the attention of students in order to focus on the issue. The mock crash is immediately followed by a student assembly that includes speakers from Maryland Shock Trauma and the video Smashed, which follows victims through their ordeals after being involved in serious traffic crashes. Additional activities, provided to students in their normal class settings, include the following:
- Panels of offenders relate their personal stories of poor decision making and the consequences.
- The ThinkFirst program from Kernan Hospital provides information related to spinal injuries and their life-altering effects.5
- Crash dynamics and the mechanics of crash injuries are discussed in science classes. Instructors include police crash reconstructionists and staff from the National Study Center. The Safety Bug, a full-size Volkswagen with delayed controls to simulate impaired driving, is used to enhance this lesson.6
- A traffic safety health fair is conducted throughout an entire day to allow students to visit in small groups, view displays, and interact with traffic safety and health professionals.
The purpose of this weeklong series of events is to reinforce continuously the traffic safety message so that it will have a lasting impact. These activities are followed by sessions in health classes several months later to discuss impaired driving. Additional presentations are scheduled just prior to the junior and senior proms to ensure that the message is fresh at these critical times.
In order to evaluate the impact of “I Am,” surveys were developed and administered to students before and after the program at the target school, as well as to a control group at another school where the program was not provided. Ten questions related to speeding, distractions, impaired driving, and crash risk were included. Those students exposed to the “I Am” program answered correctly 8 of the 10 questions in the post-survey. Four of the questions showed statistically significant increases, which indicates that the target messages were being understood.
Implementing a program like this is a significant undertaking, which is possible only with the cooperation of school officials. The principal of Owings Mills High School has recognized the value of providing prevention education to her students. Other schools in Baltimore County are considering adding this program to their curriculums. The efforts involved can be mitigated by enlisting a wide array of partners, which has been done in Baltimore County and always adds to the effectiveness of a program. The direct costs of this program have been funded through grants from the MHSO. Because of this approach, the “I Am” program has been delivered effectively without overburdening the resources of any of the involved partners, making it a model that could be replicated in practically any area with the desire to provide young driver education. ■
1“Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last modified October 18, 2010, www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/teen_drivers/teendrivers_factsheet.html (accessed February 25, 2011).
3Making the Grade: A Guide to School Drug Prevention Programs (Washington, D.C.: Drug Strategies, 1999).
5“Welcome to the ThinkFirst Foundation: Leading Injury Prevention through Education, Research, and Policy,” ThinkFirst Foundation, www.thinkfirst.org (accessed February 25, 2011).
6“Safety Bug,” Pennsylvania Driving Under The Influence Association (PA DUI), www.padui.org/bug.htm (accessed February 25, 2011).
Please cite as:
Howard B. Hall, “'I Am': Prevention Targeted at Young Drivers,” Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 78 (May 2011): 74.