Passenger Safety Project marks 30 years of helping Texans reduce vehicle accidents

Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, paschattenberg@ag.tamu.edu

Contacts: Bev Kellner, 979-862-1782, bkellner@ag.tamu.edu

Bobbi Brooks, 979-862-8325, blbrooks@ag.tamu.edu

Cindy Kovar, 979-862-1921, cmkovar@ag.tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – For three decades, traffic safety education projects through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have been involved in efforts to reduce motor vehicle fatalities and injuries and their associated costs, said program administrators.

The Passenger Safety Project along with the Watch UR BAC — blood alcohol content — drunken  drugged driving alcohol awareness program and the Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition reach thousands of Texans in mostly at-risk populations with life-saving messages.

“This fiscal year makes 30 years AgriLife Extension has received federal funding through the Texas Department of Transportation for the purpose of promoting traffic safety statewide,” said Bev Kellner, AgriLife Extension traffic safety program manager, College Station. “This funding has been instrumental in allowing us to provide educational outreach in the areas of child safety seat inspections, passenger safety technician trainings, and drunken, drugged and distracted driving education.”

Kellner said to date the Texas Department of Transportation has provided more than $7.3 million in funding.

“In the last fiscal year alone, 2,227 safety seat inspections were conducted across Texas, providing an estimated economic benefit of almost $3 million through reduced injuries and associated expenses,” she said.

Students at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor at a Watch UR BAC educational program held on campus. The driving simulator can be seen on the right.  (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

“Additionally, 11,213 child care staff completed online Agrilife Extension courses about how to safely transport children, and 8,611 individuals received hands-on education through simulated DUI driving experiences. Our  presentations on the dangers of distracted driving using the State Farm distracted driving simulators and virtual reality goggles have reached over 41,700 participants.”

Kellner said Passenger Safety Project and Watch UR BAC program were among the first traffic safety programs to use driving simulators and virtual reality goggles to help educate youth and adults on the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.

“The Passenger Safety Project’s primary focus has been on increasing the correct use of child restraint and safety belt usage,” she said. “All team members are certified child safety seat technicians and/or instructors. We also conduct National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s standardized child passenger safety certification trainings so others can become certified as child passenger safety technicians or instructors.”

A child safety seat inspection at  First Baptist Church in Fredericksburg. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Keller said 99 percent of the 28,000 child safety seat inspections done at AgriLife Extension checkup events showed the seats were being installed or used incorrectly.

“Traffic fatalities are one of the leading causes of accidental death among children ages 14 and under, and research shows proper restraint use reduces the risk of a traffic fatality by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers,” she said.

According to Bobbi Brooks, AgriLife Extension program manager for the Watch UR BAC  alcohol and drugged-driving awareness program, College Station, Texas leads the nation in DWI deaths and arrests.

“In addition, one out of three high school students reported riding in a car with a driver who had been drinking – the largest proportion in the U.S.,” Brooks said.

To help address these problems, Watch UR BAC was established in 2012 through a TxDOT grant with the purpose of educating audiences, especially young drivers, on the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs and getting into a vehicle with someone who is under the influence.

Watch UR BAC uses interactive hands-on tools, including DWI prevention simulators and vision-distorting goggles, and provides educational materials in English and Spanish. Programs can be tailored to meet clients’ needs, with presentations and hands-on activities provided at schools, businesses and community venues.

“We also have a newly developed campaign called Drive High, Get a DWI to bring awareness to the issue of riding under the influence of drugs,” Brooks said. “We’ve also recently added a motorcycle simulator to demonstrate the effect of impaired driving on those using that form of transportation.”

The Watch UR BAC project has received national attention and has been recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Governor’s Highway Traffic Safety Office as a Highway Safety Best Practice Project.

Youth participate in a relay as part of a Hard Hats for Little Heads program held at Reed Arena on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo)

Cindy Kovar, AgriLife Extension program manager, family and community health, College Station, also serves as coordinator for the Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition — a grant program at AgriLife Extension in cooperation with TxDOT, area businesses, hospitals, schools and other entities.

“The coalition is committed to bringing injury-prevention education to the 10-county area served by the Bryan TxDOT district,” she said. “In fiscal year 2016, the coalition conducted and supported programs on traffic safety including distracted driving, impaired driving, occupant protection, motorcycle safety, and bicycle and pedestrian safety.”

She said the coalition also implements the Reality Education for Drivers, or RED, program, led by AgriLife Extension and focuses on a high-risk category of drivers ages 15-21. RED is a  one-day injury prevention program tool targeted at young drivers who have been identified by the court system as exhibiting risky or irresponsible driving behavior. This may include speeding, non-use of seat belts, possession or consumption of alcohol when driving or driving while impaired or distracted.

“The program incorporates educational instruction with ‘reality education’ visits to area hospital emergency rooms so they can see the consequences of risky or reckless driving behavior,” Kovar said. “Participants also hear from a local judge or officer of the court on the legal consequences of risky behavior while driving.”

Kovar said each year the coalition also partners with Texas Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists,  Texas Medical Association, TxDOT Bryan, Texas A&M University and surrounding school districts to conduct the Hard Hats for Little Heads Program to educate thousands of area second-graders on the importance of bike helmets. It also supports community events that promote safe driving and hosts an annual event to promote back-to-school safety.

“We’re pleased to have had the opportunity to help improve the lives of Texans through our traffic safety efforts in cooperation with TxDOT over the past 30 years and look forward to continuing these efforts,” Kellner said.

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