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March 27, 2003

Purdue Extension helps Indiana teens Drive Rite

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Indiana communities can participate in a Purdue University initiative to help lower Indiana's teen driving fatality rate – one of the highest in the nation – by sponsoring Drive Rite, a community-family partnership to train young drivers.

"Most crashes that involve youth are due to a lack of driving experience on a variety of road conditions and a disregard of safety issues, such as speed limits and seat belt usage," said Juanita Russell, Purdue Extension youth and community leadership specialist and Drive Rite principal investigator. "Drive Rite is a supplement to a school-sponsored or private driver's education course or at-home instruction to help youth develop the skills, habits and attitudes necessary to become safe drivers."

Four one-day workshops will train community-sponsored teams of two to three people on how to become a Drive Rite site. Workshops will cover program components and implementation, as well as team building and leadership training. Participants also will receive training and educational materials to support the program.

Workshops will be on April 16 in Brown County, April 17 in Perry County, April 30 in Elkhart County and May 1 in Tippecanoe County. The deadline to register is April 11. Registration is limited. There is no charge to register as the workshops are funded by a grant from the Governor's Council on Impaired and Dangerous Driving. However, if the workshops are at capacity, "overflow" registration may be offered for a fee of $130 to cover materials. For registration or more information, contact the Purdue Community Systemwide Response office toll-free at 1-888-EXT-INFO or bdevine@purdue.edu.

Drive Rite is a community partnership among youth, parents, law enforcement and community leaders that grew out of Community Systemwide Response, a program sponsored by the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service that helps communities identify local issues related to children and families and develop a plan of action.

Drive Rite is a statewide collaboration among Purdue Extension, the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, Indiana State Police and Rural/Metro Ambulance Service. The program combines behind-the-wheel practice with educational activities to increase young drivers' knowledge and judgment when encountering various road, traffic and weather conditions. Sponsoring communities provide educational resources and guidance from trained driving professionals while parents take on the role of driving coach.

"Research and crash statistics both indicate that new drivers need more coaching, instruction and supervised time behind the wheel to become safe drivers," Russell said.

Parents who assume that their teens receive sufficient training in driver's education courses may be surprised to discover that Indiana only requires six hours of actual driving experience, Russell said.

"When we look at activities that our youth are involved in, whether it's athletics, music or an academic club, chances are they've spent years under the guidance of a coach or teacher developing a high level of proficiency by the time they're in high school," she said. "The six hours of driving experience in driver's education class is the equivalent of only two or three practice sessions of one of their other activities. We need to apply this practice to other youth development programs, like driving. We see the cost in loss of life, as well as physical and emotional scars of those who survive (car crashes)."

One of the key components of Drive Rite is the youth-parent relationship in the driving portion of the program. Youth are required to complete 60 hours of supervised driving under the watchful eyes of a parent on specific types of roadways and in different types of traffic and weather conditions.

"Parents need to model, monitor and mentor good driving behavior," Russell said.

She said that parents who have participated in Drive Rite have found the program to be educational for themselves as well as their teen drivers.

"Parents have told me that they become much more aware of their own driving behavior during the process of helping their children develop safe driving skills," Russell said.

Seven Indiana communities have completed the training to become Drive Rite sites, including Brown, Elkhart, Henry, Monroe and Washington counties, Mooresville, and Perry Township in Indianapolis.

Indiana currently ranks fourth in the nation in the number of fatal crashes with teens at the wheel. In 1998 the Indiana General Assembly passed a probationary licensing law, joining a growing number of states with restrictions that require young drivers to gain experience before getting full driving privileges. Graduated licensing laws are in response to nationwide statistics showing rising crash levels for 16-year-old drivers. According to the American Medical Association, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States.

Writer: Olivia Maddox, (765) 496-3207; maddoxol@purdue.edu

Source: Juanita Russell, (812) 275-7355; nita.russell@insightbb.com

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/


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