A program that brings together federal officials, law enforcement and teen driving safety advocates together in an effort to help young people share the roadways more safety with big rigs is gaining traction, following its launch by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

The Teens in the Driver Seat program is led by young drivers and passengers who reach out to their peers to help them understand and avoid dangerous driving situations, one of which involves large commercial vehicles, according to the university.

According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, nearly 4,000 people die nationwide each year in crashes involving large commercial trucks or buses, many of whom are young, inexperienced drivers who don’t understand the dangers they and their passengers face every day on the road.

“We need to remember that commercial vehicles are big and heavy and need lots of room to stop,” said Presley Price, co-chair of the Teens in the Driver Seat Teen Advisory Board. “They also have big blind spots, and if you’re in one of those blind spots, you’re in the dangerous ‘no zone.’”

Price also noted that truck drivers work long and hard hours, often working more than 10 hours a day for several days in a row, putting them at a higher risk for driver fatigue.

“It all comes down to two things,” she said. “We need to respect the rig and we need to practice courtesy and caution.”

Although the number of teen-driver crashes has generally declined in recent years, those crashes still represent the leading cause of death and serious injury for teenagers.

“The teen driver safety problem is so big that no single group is able to solve it,” said Russell Henk, a senior research engineer at TTI.  “Teens in the Driver Seat is proud to have the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and San Antonio Police Department as partners in our fight against the number-one killer of teenagers in America.”

Funded through grants from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the effort launched in San Antonio, encourages drivers – particularly inexperienced drivers – to “Respect the Rig,” and involves both the San Antonio Police Department and Teens in the Driver Seat, a peer-to-peer safety program active in more than 600 Texas high schools and growing in four other states.