For the past 35 years, traffic safety education projects conducted by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and supported by the Texas Department of Transportation, TxDOT, have been helping reduce motor vehicle fatalities and injuries in Texas.
AgriLife Extension’s Passenger Safety and KidSafe Initiative Project, along with the Watch UR BAC drinking and driving awareness program, Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition and its statewide initiatives, reached over 72,240 participants in Texas with life-saving messages through 2021.
“This fiscal year makes 35 years that AgriLife Extension has received federal funding through TxDOT to promote traffic safety statewide,” said Bev Kellner, AgriLife Extension traffic safety program manager, Bryan-College Station. “This funding has helped us provide educational outreach in the form of child safety seat inspections, passenger safety technician trainings, and drunken, drugged and distracted driver education.”
Kellner said, to date, TxDOT has provided more than $13.75 million in funding.
“In the last fiscal year alone, we conducted 1,938 child safety seat inspections across Texas, providing an estimated economic benefit of more than $3.15 million through reduced injuries and associated expenses,” she said. “Additionally, 5,335 child care staff completed online AgriLife Extension courses about how to safely transport children, and 31,149 individuals received education on safe driving practices, including hands-on education through simulated driving experiences.”
She said project presentations on the dangers of distracted driving using the State Farm distracted driving simulators and virtual reality, VR, goggles have reached more than 40,000 participants since 2012.
“The Passenger Safety Project and Watch UR BAC program were among the first traffic safety programs to use driving simulators and VR goggles to help educate youth and adults on the dangers of impaired and distracted driving,” she said.
The Passenger Safety Project
The Passenger Safety Project’s primary focus has been increasing the correct use of child restraint and safety belt usage. 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,” Kellner said.
Kellner said 98% of the more than 37,370 child safety seat inspections conducted since 1999 at AgriLife Extension-led checkup events and sponsored fitting stations showed the seats being installed or used incorrectly.
“Traffic fatalities are one of the leading causes of death among children ages 14 and under, and research shows proper restraint use reduces the risk of a traffic fatality by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers,” she said.
Watch UR BAC
Bobbi Brooks, AgriLife Extension program manager for the Watch UR BAC impaired driving awareness program, said Texas leads the nation in DWI deaths and arrests.
“Not only that, but a statewide survey also shows 51% of Texas students in grades seven-12 have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives,” Brooks said.
To help address these problems, Watch UR BAC was established in 2012 through a TxDOT grant to educate audiences, especially young drivers, on the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs and riding in a vehicle with someone under the influence.
Watch UR BAC uses interactive, hands-on tools, including DWI-prevention simulators and vision-distorting goggles, and provides educational materials in both 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 campaign called Drive High, Get a DWI to bring awareness to the issue of driving under the influence of drugs,” Brooks said. “The project also has a motorcycle simulator that is used to demonstrate the effect of impaired driving on those using that type of transportation.”
Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition, statewide initiatives
Cindy Kovar, AgriLife Extension program manager for the Brazos Valley Injury Prevention Coalition and statewide initiatives, said the TxDOT grant-funded program provides education on traffic safety in the 10 counties served by the TxDOT Bryan District and extends statewide.
“The coalition is committed to bringing injury-prevention education to the Bryan TxDOT district,” she said. “The coalition conducts and supports programs on traffic safety, including distracted driving, impaired driving, occupant protection, motorcycle safety, and bicycle and pedestrian safety. We also conduct programs focusing on safe driving practices for the entire state.”
Kovar also leads the Mature Driver Program, a collaboration between AgriLife Extension, TxDOT, AARP and CarFit. The program is a free statewide community education initiative that gives motorists over the age of 55 the tools they need to be safe on the road. It has also trained coordinators to promote over-55 driver awareness and safety through education and community outreach.
The coalition’s Reality Education for Drivers, or RED, program focuses on a high-risk category of drivers ages 15-25. RED is a one-day injury prevention program targeted to 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, underage possession or consumption of alcohol when driving or driving while impaired or distracted,” said Mary Jo Prince, AgriLife Extension program manager, Bryan-College Station. “The program is also open to non-offenders who wish to take proactive steps for better traffic safety awareness.”
The RED program’s primary goal is to steer young drivers toward safer driving habits and away from possible citations while on the road – to drive sober, safely, securely and within the speed limits. The class curriculum is designed to help participants change their attitudes about the choices they make, so, in turn, they will want to change their behaviors when traveling, either behind the wheel or as passengers.
“The program incorporates educational instruction with reality education,” Prince said. “This includes information-based presentations, guest speakers, educational resources, interactive discussions about current traffic safety trends, and impactful videos that deliver the realities of actual traffic incidents – stories of fatalities and serious injuries that have changed lives forever.”
She noted that since the onset of the pandemic and due to restricted access to participating hospitals, a video tour of CHI St. Joseph’s Regional Health’s Emergency/Trauma Center and the morgue, hosted by hospital professional staff, has been a feature of the class.
The coalition also offers a Hats for Little Heads Program, which has educated thousands of area second graders on the importance of bike helmets.
A final note
The agency’s traffic safety projects have received national attention and have been recognized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a Highway Safety Best Practice Project.
“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 35 years,” Kellner said. “We look forward to continuing these efforts.”
Guidelines and best practices for how to properly install and use child safety seats and resources for passenger and community safety, including the Watch UR BAC program can be found on the AgriLife Extension website.