Just as teens need to understand the tremendous risk they face when they drink and drive, text, or refuse to buckle up, they also need to understand the risks that lie in the roadway itself each and every day. Sharp curves at the bottom of a hill…warning signs that you can’t see at night or that are blocked by overgrown bushes…crosswalks where pedestrians don’t have enough time to make it across 6 lanes of traffic. Regardless if they are walking, riding or driving, teens need to learn how to “read the road” and understand where these dangers lie and how to prepare for them.
A new program has been developed to help teens identify these kind of dangers, but also better understand what they can do to help reduce these risks and improve safety for their community. The program, Teen Roadway Safety Assessments (TeenRSAtm), is a joint initiative between the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA), the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and the Roadway Safety Foundation (RSF).
The TeenRSA Program is built around a “Teen Roadway Safety Assessment” in which an “on-the- ground” review is conducted by a youth-led team on a section of roadway or intersection in their community where they believe there are safety problems. This may take place near their school, or even a location where a friend or another student has been involved in a crash. As part of the assessment, the youth-led team not only learns how to look for potential problems in the signs, markings, sidewalks, signals, and the road itself, but they also learn ways these problems might be addressed, often with just low-cost improvements or better maintenance. To help them through this process, a handbook has been developed that prompts the students to look at different roadway features and record their observations. During the final step in the process, the teens are encouraged to take an active role in sharing their findings, helping other students understand these risks, and ultimately advocating for improvements.
Although the teens learn a lot about roadway safety during the TeenRSA, one thing they also see is how drivers and other road users behave…up front and personal. Drivers turning through a busy intersection talking on their cellphones. Pedestrians stepping into a crosswalk, without even looking at oncoming traffic. Inevitably, the students who we have taken on TeenRSAs, walk away with a new respect for how important it is to stay focused on their own safety and those around them anytime they are traveling on or beside a road. But with knowledge comes power. With what they have learned, many have also become tremendously committed to working to make roads safer.
A foundation to the success of this program is partnership, not only with local transportation professionals and school officials, but with organizations like The Century Council and others that see the importance of engaging and empowering youth to become advocates for road safety. If you want to learn more about the TeenRSA or if you want to start one in your own community, contact the program lead, the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) or visit the website at www.teenrsa.org.