Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Chief Operator Teen Driver Program - prevention of teenage driving accidents

Every day, the media report on violent acts perpetrated by teenagers. These accounts make it easy to perceive that violence is the singular cause of death and serious bodily injury among teenagers. Yet, statistics reveal that in nine counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area, traffic-related incidents were the most significant contributor to death and serious bodily injury of 15- to 19-year-olds.(1) Moreover,

* Teen drivers age 15 to 19, who represent 4 to 5 percent of licensed drivers, became involved in 10 percent of all fatal and/or serious bodily injury crashes, a rate approaching 2.5 times their licensed driving population

* Only 16.3 percent of all teenagers killed in motor vehicle crashes wore seat belts

* One in 4,000 teens involved in fatal accidents as drivers or occupants used alcohol, the highest among any driving population

* Nearly half of teens killed in vehicle crashes were in the company of other teens, suggesting that peer pressure may have played a role.(2)

More than likely, these statistics reflect a national trend. Can teens' behavior be changed? A Philadelphia-based research group found that when a teenage audience perceives a safety message as emanating from mainstream culture, even when presented by their favorite sports icon, they summarily discount its content. On the other hand, if the teens themselves craft and deliver safety messages, without fear of ostracism by their peers, lasting behavior modification can result.(3) This research suggests that a primary goal of law enforcement may be to create programs that enhance teens' ability to promote their own safety messages in the style of their choice. The Albany, California, Police Department's Chief Operator Teen Driver Program represents one such program.

With funding from a 3-year grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, the Albany Police Department took a new approach to teen mentoring programs. The department counted on the universal appeal of music to create a successful program. "Elvis," a lieutenant, transforms into the "King of Traffic Safety" to communicate with the teens. "The Lawman," a sergeant, plays guitar and writes and produces all original songs. The chief, who plays bass guitar, completes the trio.

The Chief Operator Teen Driver Program stresses that teens should not consume alcoholic beverages. Still, acknowledging that many teens do drink, the program encourages them not to drink and drive, much like the adult-oriented Designated Driver campaign. In short, students who become Chief Operators pledge to:

* ensure that all teens buckle up

* safely drive a carload of teens

* obey all traffic laws

* never drink and drive.

Students take the pledge during a Chief Operator assembly at their local high school. To energize the students, Elvis and The Lawman perform an original traffic safety song. Then, a uniformed police officer from the host jurisdiction poses a series of traffic safety questions to randomly selected members of the audience. But the highlight of each assembly is when students perform original traffic safety songs and skits. Encouraging students to participate begins several weeks prior to the assembly and includes a number of incentives.

Program Incentives

Tangible incentives ensure participation in both presenting individual safety messages and responding to safety questions during the assembly. Students who create a song or skit for the assembly are entered automatically in the Chief Operator program contest. The first judging panel included an executive from the Music Television Network (MTV), giving the teens an extra incentive to perform. The winning video is produced professionally. Three song winners record their work at a professional studio, and the final album is distributed to high school students locally and nationally.(4) The winners also receive cash awards and their own personalized trading cards.

Local merchants make it easy to get students to participate during the assembly. Students who correctly answer traffic safety questions receive such prizes as coupons for free food at a local restaurant, tickets to professional baseball games, and movie passes. Additional prizes - such as T-shirts, baseball caps, key chains, footballs, audio tapes, and videotapes - feature the Chief Operator logo. Every student who attends the assembly receives a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a local fast-food restaurant.

Program Success

At the end of the 3-year grant period, the California Office of Traffic Safety determined that the Chief Operator program had met its objectives and declared it a success. Traffic statistics from the California Highway Patrol for fatal and injury-resulting collisions involving alcohol-impaired teenage drivers in the nine-county target area suggest progress. In 1992, when the Chief Operator program began, 385 separate incidents occurred. In 1995, at the conclusion of the grant period, 312 incidents were reported, an 18.9 percent reduction.(5)

In addition, teenagers in several states and even some foreign countries have embraced the program. Elvis and The Lawman have hit the road to perform in many other states and represented California law enforcement at the annual Canadian Students Against Drunk Driving conference in March 1996. Other departments have adopted the program, including the San Jose, California, Police Department, whose El Guardian program uses materials printed in Spanish to allow Spanish-speaking students to participate. The record albums remain popular, and in 1996, the Recording Industry Association of America honored the Chief Operator program with a Gold Record award for reaching so many teens.

Conclusion

Teens tend to think of themselves as invincible. They often fail to see the dangers associated with drinking and driving. Yet, traditional methods aimed at getting teens to see the light usually miss the mark.

What better way to get through to hard-to-reach teens than with a program and contest that feature professionally produced recordings and videos? The Albany, California's Chief Operator Teen Driver Program drives the point home for teens who would rather sing at a school assembly than attend their best friend's funeral.

Endnotes

1 1991 California Highway Patrol statistics compiled from the StateWide Integrated Traffic Record System, representing the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.

2 Ibid.

3 Associated Press, "Urban Youths Hard to Reach," San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 1992, A3.

4 To obtain this year's cassette recording or additional information on the Chief Operator program, send a request on agency letterhead to Chief Larry Murdo or Lt. William Palmini, Albany Police Department, 1000 San Pablo Avenue, Albany, California 94706.

5 California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System.

Chief Murdo commands the Albany, California, Police Department

COPYRIGHT 1997 Federal Bureau of Investigation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group