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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 70 · No. 2 > Turning Young Drivers Into Survivors

Sept/Oct 2006
Vol. 70 · No. 2

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-2006-006

Turning Young Drivers Into Survivors

by Kenneth S. Opiela, Bradley M. Sant, and James A. Childers

A new FHWA outreach campaign educates teens on work zone safety.

Improving understanding of work zone dangers is vital to the safety of new motorists. Here, orange cones and a directional sign direct a car away from the right-hand lane.
(Above) Improving understanding of work zone dangers is vital to the safety of new motorists. Here, orange cones and a directional sign direct a car away from the right-hand lane.

At one time or another, all drivers encounter the unfamiliar traffic patterns and hazards posed by roadway work zones. In 2004, work zone crashes caused more than 1,000 deaths and nearly 50,000 injuries. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)estimates that highway construction will increase to meet new capacity demands and to address the deteriorating highway infrastructure.

The number of teenage drivers also is increasing, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the driving population. Each year at least 2 million people—mostly teenagers—begin driving. At the same time, motor vehicle crashes kill more teenagers than any other cause. In the 15- to 20-year-old age group, 32 percent of their fatalities occur in traffic crashes. According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, a 16-year-old is 20 times more likely to be killed in a crash than an adult, due in part to driving inexperience.

In 1999 the U.S. Congress called upon the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to create a work zone safety awareness and training campaign targeting young drivers. Among the motivating factors were the limited attention to work zone safety in driver training curricula, the need to educate driving instructors about the existence of a national standard for uniform traffic control in work zones, and the challenge of reaching teen drivers with safe driving messages.

The result was an FHWA partnership with the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) to develop and launch a safety campaign called Turning Point: Roadway Work Zone Safety for New Drivers. Through an interactive CD-ROM training tool, a safety video, a Web site, and collateral products, the campaign focuses on helping teenage motorists obtain the knowledge and skills they need to safely navigate the Nation's growing number of work zones.

A Public-Private Success

The target audience for Turning Point is drivers between the ages of 14 and 18 who are preparing for drivers licenses or who have limited experience driving. FHWA and ARTBA packaged the campaign materials into work zone safety toolkits and distributed them to key stakeholders, including instructors of driver education.

Launched in 2005, Turning Point already is showing successful results. Bradley Huspek, president of the Driving School Association of the Americas, Inc., and administrator of the Sears Authorized Driving School in Michigan, terms the campaign "a fantastic job." He adds, "Instructors will be able to work the information [in the toolkit] into our existing curriculum very easily and in a variety of ways." According to Huspek, 30 toolkits would enable his organization to expose 11,000 students annually to the campaign's "vital information."

Developing the Campaign

To develop the campaign for Turning Point, FHWA and ARTBA partnered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which works with professional groups to develop curricula for training new drivers. Their preliminary research found that the current curriculum on safe driving through work zones was inadequate to cover the range of situations that drivers now encounter. ARTBA then set out to develop a multifaceted approach that supplements existing driver education programs with new educational materials.

One of Turning Point's goals is to incorporate work zone safety into driver education programs. Here, the orange barrels guide a student driver into a left merge to avoid a closed lane.
One of Turning Point's goals is to incorporate work zone safety into driver education programs. Here, the orange barrels guide a student driver into a left merge to avoid a closed lane.

The name Turning Point was selected because when new drivers receive their licenses, they reach a turning point in their lives. The goal was to remind teen drivers to handle this turning point in a positive and responsible way, recognizing the hazards and making the right decisions every time they drive, including when they negotiate work zones.

In addition to the teenage drivers themselves, other individuals and groups interested in ensuring that teens drive safely in work zones contributed to developing Turning Point. These contributors include driving instructors, other educators, parents, traffic safety advocates, transportation agencies, and the road construction industry. NHTSA, the National Safety Council (NSC), AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, and other organizations also helped ARTBA and FHWA develop the program.

Materials and Messages

FHWA and ARTBA selected and designed the campaign materials in the toolkit to be in tune with teens' interests in multimedia technologies. The interactive CD-ROM, for example, guides teen drivers through real-life driving and decisionmaking scenarios. Another product, an educational Web site, combines online learning activities with resource information and hyperlinks to other traffic safety-related sites. A third piece, a motivational video on DVD, aims to shape new driver attitudes. Through a reality-based storyline, the video shows teens the real impact their driving has on human lives, especially their own. A fourth outreach tool, a searchable CD-ROM database, offers additional resources that can help driving instructors reach out to teen drivers on work zone safety issues. Other materials are available as well to advertise the campaign's messages and inform specific stakeholders.

The ultimate goal is to create awareness in new drivers about the potentially hazardous driving situations of work zones and to educate them about the basic safety strategies for crash prevention. For instance, teenagers learn that work zones can be dangerous due to a number of factors, including uneven pavement, lane shifts, lane drops, narrowed lanes, unfamiliar traffic patterns, other people driving erratically, suddenly stopped traffic, and workers on the road.

After studying the materials, teenagers should be able to cite the following as potential consequences of reckless driving in a work zone: death of driver, passengers, or construction workers; serious injury to self or others; imprisonment in jail for manslaughter or other transgressions; damage to vehicle; loss of license (and mobility); parental censure; and embarrassment among peers.

Speeding, already a hazardous practice by many teens on roadways, can be acutely dangerous in work zones. "Exceeding work zone speed limits is one of the most commonly and blatantly violated laws," says Huspek, "and I applaud the campaign's efforts toward increasing new driver awareness of this important safety topic."

New drivers learn basic prevention practices from Turning Point: slow down; pay attention, watch for signs, and look for hazards such as erratic drivers; eliminate distractions by getting off the cell phone, turning off the radio, and quieting friends in the car; and do not become frustrated with the wait and allow your impatience to lead you into doing something reckless. To that end, the campaign focuses on promoting and reinforcing five safety messages: know the work zone signs;pay attention to other drivers; stay focused and avoid distractions; expect the unexpected; and keep your cool, be patient.

According to research by the developers of Turning Point, many driver education programs are silent on work zone safety issues. In a parked car, this young driver is counseled by his driving instructor.
According to research by the developers of Turning Point, many driver education programs are silent on work zone safety issues. In a parked car, this young driver is counseled by his driving instructor.

Interactive Training Tool

The interactive CD-ROM, "Turning Point: Work Zones from Behind the Wheel," helps young motorists recognize possible hazards and puts them in challenging driving situations. The format is like that used for the AAA Foundation's driver-ZED® educational tool, which is similar to the automobile racing video games that many teens spend hours playing.

The CD-ROM begins with an introduction by a teen who talks briefly about the consequences of taking "hits" in work zones—to his car, head, or wallet (money and license). The next screen enables the teenaged CD-ROM user to step through a work zone primer or see instructions on how to use the training video. (This makes the tool usable without other materials or an instructor.)

The CD-ROM utilizes video clips—most taken from real work zones in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—in the interactive computer program, which walks the new driver through a variety of situations. In some cases the video shows staged events, such as a driver merging late in a work zone right-lane merge situation.

The training tool presents 20 driving situations in modules titled "Cruise Around Town" and "Head out on the Highway." Within these situations, teens encounter lane shifts, lane closures, crossovers, bidirectional operations, shoulder work, moving and short-term work operations, and other issues. Because it was impossible to address all situations, FHWA and ARTBA used research data and expert opinions to prioritize the options. The CD-ROM producers reviewed scenes carefully to note all hazards, avoid examples of poor motorist behavior, and assure compliance with the 2003 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

In the video scenes, the perspective is that of a driver with dashboard and rearview mirror displays. At various points the video scene freezes and the teen is asked about the situation and what might happen, or is asked to point out potential hazards. After the teen keys in the responses, the video resumes and the commentator evaluates the answers. The interactive program tallies a teen's response score to assess his or her skill level.

The software installs automatically after being inserted into the CD-ROM or DVD drive and is self-contained, making it easy to reproduce and distribute. Users can start and restart the CD-ROM and print out certificates showing their scores when they have completed the training.

Web Site

This photo shows a hand passing a car key to another hand, presumably a parent to a teenager. Both teenager and parent need to study the Turning Point materials before the car keys are handed over.
Both teenager and parent will benefit from studying and talking about the Turning Point materials before the car keys are handed over.

To complement the CD-ROM training tool, ARTBA and FHWA developed the "Turning Point" Web site to provide an ongoing clearinghouse for materials related to work zone safety. The site is accessible to all stakeholders—new drivers, driving instructors, parents, and others. After educating the audience on the basics of work zone safety issues, the site provides additional factual data and news briefs. ARTBA and FHWA included the URL in the work zone safety toolkits distributed to driving educators, along with a guide explaining how the Web site can be used to support classroom instruction. For instance, instructors could assign or encourage students to use the site as part of their classroom or homework assignments.

"Typical" Teens

Although little data are available on the causes of crashes in work zones specifically involving teenagers, FHWA research indicates that some novice driver characteristics affect the high rate of teen crashes in general. These characteristics fall into three areas.

Ability to Recognize Hazards. New drivers generally lack the ability to recognize risks in the environment. Their inexperience means they have the following tendencies:

  • They are slower to recognize potentially hazardous features and situations on the road.
  • They underestimate the danger of certain risky situations, such as speeding and driving while impaired, while overestimating others.
  • And they are more easily distracted from risk evaluation and have difficulty focusing on the driving task.

Knowledge and Implementation of Safe Procedures. Due to limited experience, teens are unlikely to react properly to work zone hazards. In general, they are not experienced in scanning the environment, recognizing potential hazards while they are still at a safe distance, and making tough decisions quickly. As a result, teens may:

  • Overestimate their ability to stop and underestimate the distance needed to stop safely
  • Fail to consider other drivers' expectations and reactions to their behavior
  • Expect other drivers to behave predictably
  • Not recognize the impact of emotional and physical conditions on driving

Motivations. Considering common teenage traits, such as rebellion, angst, and overconfidence, is important when designing any learning program for them, particularly one aimed at safety practices. Evidence indicates that these traits lead to deliberately risky driving behaviors, such as speeding, driving while impaired, and not concentrating on the driving task. Causes for this risk taking can include the following:

  • Strong need for stimulation (thrill seeking)
  • Desire to impress peers
  • Lack of immediate or intrinsic rewards for safe driving
  • Little recognition of long-term consequences and little valuing of the future
  • Sense of fatalism
  • Unrealistic sense of control over a driving situation

Factors that motivate safe behavior in teens also are well known and can be applied to driving. The paramount motivator is simply the desire to get where one wants to go. Teens highly value the freedom that driving offers and do not want to jeopardize it. Other motivating factors include the following:

  • Desire for unrestricted mobility
  • Desire not to harm others
  • Fear of other negative consequences such as parental censure, property damage, fines, and loss of license
  • Personal or "close to home" negative driving experiences, such as those of friends
  • Desire not to "look bad" to others as a result of driving stupidly or irresponsibly
  • Regret for negative consequences of bad driving decisions

Once a user arrives at the Web site, a brief introductory video plays, similar in style and theme to the introduction of the CD-ROM. Users can either skip the introduction or wait until its conclusion to arrive at the homepage, which explains the purpose of the site. From this page, the user can choose one of three tabs: For Teens, For Parents, or For Educators.

The homepage also includes a brief article on the Turning Point campaign's goals and products, and links to separate pages. One page contains continuously cycled work zone facts, such as the number of injuries yearly and the costs of crashes. Other pages invite site users to contact FHWA or ARTBA to share feedback on the campaign materials or share information for use in tracking site usage and user demographics.

Lane shifts and unusual traffic patterns, like those shown here, are among the hazards that all drivers must be watchful for when navigating work zones. Inexperienced drivers in particular can be challenged by the unfamiliar.
Lane shifts and unusual traffic patterns, like those shown here, are among the hazards that all drivers must be watchful for when navigating work zones. Inexperienced drivers in particular can be challenged by the unfamiliar.

The teen-focused section of the Web site contains a tutorial on work zones. Another page, "Danger Zone," features newspaper and other accounts of real crashes in work zones and their outcomes. These stories should raise awareness of the real consequences of unsafe driving and, therefore, motivate teens to drive more safely.

The segment devoted to parents contains guidance on the role they can play in educating their teenagers. The site points out how parents first should educate themselves and then, based on expert recommendations, create the correct learning environment for their teens. Articles inform parents how to coach their teens in practice driving sessions, provide parents with insight into teen driving attitudes and behaviors, and update parents on aspects of driver education that have changed since they learned to drive. Site links encourage parents to find more information on Turning Point products and information on the "For Educators" page.

The educators' section contains links to assorted content regarding work zone safety; covers teamwork among teens, parents, and educators; provides information on obtaining Turning Point products; and offers the means for educators to evaluate the Turning Point program. The "Teaching Work Zone Safety" page includes a primer on roadway work zones and provides links to other national driving organizations with a stake in teen driving safety.

Other Toolkit Components

ARTBA and FHWA developed a variety of products to supplement the interactive training tool CD-ROM and Web site mainstays. Work Zone Safety Awareness & Training Resources, a searchable database included on a separate CD-ROM in the toolkit, contains materials useful for driving instructors. The database CD-ROM includes presentations from other campaigns on driving safely in work zones that were identified when researching Turning Point. One example is a 30-second television public service announcement titled "At the Office," developed for FHWA and since used in several States' safety campaigns. Another example is an 8-minute video, "A Sudden Change of Plans," developed by the Carolinas Associated General Contractors and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. This CD-ROM also includes descriptions of materials and selected samples from other campaigns and information about how to obtain them.

Another Turning Point product is an 11-minute video on DVD called "Turning Point: Some Decisions Last a Lifetime." The video attempts to create an emotional connection to work zone safety, delivering the critical safety messages to new drivers in a context to which they can relate. The content includes a first-person narrative, fact-based fiction that tells the story of a teen who made a mistake in a work zone and ended up being both victim and cause of serious injury and death. The story is supplemented with interview bites from other teens and concludes with a strong motivational message that involves revisiting the consequences: "humanized statistics" that convey the numbers of young people seriously injured or killed each year, coupled with a visual depiction of a teen disappearing from a familiar scene—a carload of friends.

Work zone safety includes driving to ensure the safety of construction and maintenance workers. Two construction workers are shown behind a jersey barrier but still very close to traffic, requiring caution by the oncoming drivers.
Work zone safety includes driving to ensure the safety of construction and maintenance workers. Two construction workers are shown behind a jersey barrier but still very close to traffic, requiring caution by the oncoming drivers.

Early reviews of the video are enthusiastic. "It's an excellent tool to educate teen drivers about the importance of safely navigating work zones," says Robert E. Roush, school safety education advisor for the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Bureau of Teaching and Learning Support. "Students are more likely to accept the message since it comes from a peer."

An instructor's guide accompanying the toolkit introduces driver educators to the Turning Point campaign with explanations of the purpose, objectives, and messages. The instructor's guide describes the toolkit components—video, interactive CD training tool, resources CD, "Work Zone Primer" slide presentation, Web site, and supplemental materials—and offers tips on how to use them. The guide also provides commentary on the exercises in the interactive training tool to facilitate class discussions with students. Finally, the guide provides pre- and post-course quiz questions, answer sheets, and a form for teachers to evaluate the toolkit.

By using a cell phone and personal digital assistant while in a car, these two young women are violating one of the five core messages of the Turning Point campaign-stay focused and avoid distractions.
By using a cell phone and personal digital assistant while in a car, these two young women are violating one of the five core messages of the Turning Point campaign-stay focused and avoid distractions.

ARTBA and FHWA recruited a celebrity spokeswoman to encourage new drivers to observe the various messages on safe driving in work zones. Dominique Dawes, a U.S. gymnastics medalist at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, already has made appearances to encourage teens to think about work zone safety.

A variety of collateral products help disseminate the campaign messages, including posters, bumper stickers, bookmarks, instructor's guides, brochures, factsheets, and press releases. ARTBA developed these items after reviewing similar products created by various Federal, State, local, and private entities.

Rolling Out the Campaign

In 2005, ARTBA held events to roll out the campaign for groups representing the target audiences. The Turning Point training and campaign materials constituted most of the contents of 5,000 toolkits distributed to driving instructors, parents, State agencies, and others. ARTBA is further marketing and distributing the Turning Point products to the primary audience of high-school-age new drivers and to three secondary audiences: traffic safety advocates and government officials, representatives of the roadway construction industry, and driver education instructors.

Turning Point video clips from work zones on city roads and rural highways educate new drivers. In this simulation of the driver's viewpoint, the user appears to be peering over the steering wheel through the windshield. The city scene shows an orange-clad highway worker dangerously close to traffic.
Turning Point video clips from work zones on city roads and rural highways educate new drivers. In this simulation of the driver's viewpoint, the user appears to be peering over the steering wheel through the windshield. The city scene shows an orange-clad highway worker dangerously close to traffic.
In this work zone scene on a rural highway, the driver appears to be too close to the car ahead, perhaps because he or she did not account for slowed and congested traffic caused by the work zone.
In this work zone scene on a rural highway, the driver appears to be too close to the car ahead, perhaps because he or she did not account for slowed and congested traffic caused by the work zone.

ARTBA plans to seek additional channels for distribution, potentially including manufacturers and dealers of automobiles, tires, and traffic safety devices. Further audiences might include auto insurance companies and other organizations with stakes in driver safety in work zones and on roadways in general.

Campaign Evaluation

The last aspect of Turning Point was an evaluation of the pilot rollout. Carried out by NSC and the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, the evaluation focused on soliciting feedback from driving instructors and their teen students about the effectiveness of the training materials. The objectives of the evaluation included verifying receipt of the toolkits by the target audience, gauging the extent of the toolkits' use in driver education courses, assessing the levels of knowledge gained by teenage students, measuring the success in changing student attitudes, and evaluating the overall quality and effectiveness of the final products in conveying the safety messages.

The results, issued in a report published in September 2005, included both quantitative and qualitative information. When asked to rate the overall effectiveness of the Turning Point toolkit in helping them communicate to students the importance of work zone safety, the teachers gave the toolkit an average rating of 8.2 on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is "not at all effective" and 10 is "extremely effective." All of the teachers surveyed reported incorporating some aspect of the Turning Point curriculum into their classroom instruction, with 88.2 percent reporting using the instructor's guide and 70.6 percent using the video.

Former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes agreed to take on the role of spokeswoman for the Turning Point campaign.
Former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes (shown here) agreed to take on the role of spokeswoman for the Turning Point campaign.

Early qualitative feedback has been positive as well. "This is one of the best packages of training materials I have ever received," says Michael Nischan, a loss control and safety consultant for The McCart Group, a risk management and insurance brokerage in Atlanta, GA. "The amount of information, tools, and contacts, and the level of detail and professional organization are absolutely astounding."

Typical Work Zone Situations Facing Drivers Young and Old
Road Situation Environment Traffic Conditions Work Zone Features Driving Situation And Hazard
Divided highway Rural 105 km/h (65 mi/h) speed limit Limited access Light traffic 10 percent trucks Roadside/shoulder work Speeding Inadequate clearance Workers accessing work vehicles
Lane closure Speeding Distracted driving Unable to merge (crash, intrusion into work zone)
Lane shift Following too closely Distracted Sideswipe or rear-end crash
Medium traffic 15 percent trucks Lane closure Slow-moving vehicle ahead Visibility blocked by truck Intrusion into work zone Worker close to traffic
Crossover Tight geometrics Road-profile effects
Heavy traffic 10 percent trucks Lane closure Distracted driving
Crossover Distracted driving Irregular pavement surface Inadequate markings
Two-lane roadway Suburban 89 km/h (55 mi/h) speed limit Some driveways Light traffic Bidirectional operation Flaggers
Shoulder or roadside work Construction traffic access
Medium traffic Bidirectional operation Blocked driveways Head-on traffic in close setting
Shoulder or roadside work Driver confusion
Arterial Suburban 72 km/h (45 mi/h) speed limit Access control Medium traffic Pedestrians Lane shift across centerline School areas Parking
Moving operation Reduced sight lines
Heavy traffic Pedestrians Multilane closure Moving equipment
Middle-lane utility work Reduced sight lines Confusion on where to turn
Intersection Urban 48 km/h(30 mi/h) speed limit Frequent driveways Light traffic Pedestrians Lane closure Dropoffs near turns Driveway confusion
Lane closure and turn limits Edge dropoffs Tight turns
Medium traffic Pedestrians Lane closure Failure to see pedestrians crossing
Lane closure and turn limits Abrupt moves by other drivers

Kenneth S. Opiela is the leader of the Roadside Team in FHWA's Office of Safety Research and Development. He manages the National Crash Analysis Center and Federal Outdoor Impact Laboratory, and supports FHWA efforts in roadway delineation, advanced research, driving simulation, and crash analyses. He holds a doctorate in civil engineering and a master's degree in urban planning from Wayne State University. He earned his bachelor's degree in civil engineering at Michigan State University.

Bradley M. Sant is responsible for ARTBA's National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse (http://wzsafety.tamu.edu) and Traffic Safety Industry Division. Before joining ARTBA, Sant served as director of safety and health for the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO. He graduated from Utah State University with B.A. degrees in political science and Spanish. He earned a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center.

James A. Childers manages the Turning Point campaign for ARTBA, under contract to FHWA, and developed ARTBA's roadway construction safety training video "Avoiding Collisions." Childers joined ARTBA in 2001, bringing a 27-year background as a training consultant, technical writer, scriptwriter, videographer, video editor, and photographer. During those years he worked with Federal, State, local, and foreign transportation agencies.

To access the "Turning Point" Web site, visit www.workzonedriver.org. For more information, contact Kenneth Opiela at 202-493-3371 or ken.opiela@fhwa.dot.gov, Bradley Sant at 202-289-4434 or bsant@artba.org, or James Childers at 202-289-4434 or jchilders@artba.org.

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