Community-Level Programs

Unlike the policy approaches described above, programs must be done repeatedly and they can be expensive. It also takes time and effort to develop a good program. Nonetheless, the following are a few examples of useful activities that individual communities can undertake.

Programs that Enhance Parental Involvement

To become better drivers, beginners need lots of practice driving in a wide variety of situations. This includes driving at night, in all kinds of weather, in heavy traffic, on interstates, and on rural roads. Programs that help parents understand the importance of practice – and give them guidance in dealing with barriers to practice – can help ensure teens get the most benefit from the learner license period.

Reduce Injuries When Crashes Occur

Most efforts to increase teen driver safety focus on preventing crashes. But even if a crash cannot be prevented, it is still possible to prevent the injuries and deaths that result from a crash. In fact, this may be an easier task since one simple action is often all that is needed.

Seatbelt Programs: Numerous community-level programs focus on increasing seatbelt use among teenagers. Although belt use by teen drivers and passengers is nearly as high as among adults, anything that further increases belt use among teens is especially helpful because of their higher crash rates. Programs that have shown promise for increasing teen belt use include school-based incentive programs or competitions, and social norms programs (see below).

Choosing Safe Vehicles for Teen Drivers: Programs are needed that inform, encourage, and support families to put their teens in the safest vehicle possible. Given the high crash rates of teen drivers, it is important for teens to drive in safe vehicles so they are less likely to get injured when they do crash. The best car for a teen is one with front and side airbags, electronic stability control, and other modern safety features (such as frontal collision avoidance systems). It should also have only moderate power.

Social Norm Programs

Our behavior is strongly influenced by our perceptions of what we consider to be normative (typical, appropriate and expected) behavior in different settings. When it comes to teen drivers, there are many misperceptions held by teens and adults alike. For example, alcohol is only a small factor in crashes involving 16- and 17-year old drivers. Also, teens are nearly as likely as adults to wear seat belts. Social norms programs are designed to reduce these misperceptions by providing teens with accurate information about their peers’ behavior. For example, a social norms program might focus on the fact that most teens do not drive after drinking alcohol. By correcting misperceptions about drinking norms – rather than “preaching” to students about the dangers of drinking and driving – social norms programs seek to reduce the pressure that teens might feel to drink and drive, and to encourage teens that do drink and drive to realize that their behavior is atypical. “Feedback signs” are another way to provide normative information. For example, signs can be placed at the exits to high schools showing the percent of teens wearing seat belts during the previous week (based on observations of teen drivers at the school). This can help teens understand that belt use is already high among their peers, again placing pressure on teens who do not buckle up. Research shows that when social norms programs are done correctly, this approach can be very powerful in encouraging teens to choose safe behaviors.