Roads can be a deadly place for young drivers. In fact, Nebraska teens die in car crashes at three times the rate of adults.
Centura High School is one of seven in Nebraska that's using funding from various state health and safety groups to start using a program called "Teens in the Driver Seat." As a rural school centered between several communities, many of Centura's students drive themselves to class every day.
"Just the other day an eighth grade student told me that she drives back and forth from St. Paul with her younger sister, and she's 15. And I thought, oh my gosh, that's a long distance to be driving," says Centura Guidance Counselor Kay Carpenter.
So when Centura got funding for "Teens in the Driver Seat," student council members jumped on board.
"We just felt that it would be good for any teenager whatsoever, and with so many problems happening with teens and drinking and not wearing seatbelts, we just figured it would be a good way to just promote safe driving," says senior Brianna Deines.
Carpenter says the student council uses study periods to give presentations and talk to their friends and classmates about not drinking and driving, and they're planning activities like after-school seat belt checks.
"The great thing about this is that it is a peer-to-peer program, it takes the thing of, ‘oh, mom and dad are telling me this' to ‘hey, my classmates are telling this'-type situation," says Carpenter.
After concentrating in class all day, students say the biggest challenge they face when it's time to hit the road is staying focused.
"I think it's more distracted driving, nowadays with social media and stuff on your cell phone, you can text and tweet and Facebook and all that stuff, and I think that just gets in the way," says Student Council President Nathan Lemburg.
"I mean it's always tempting – ‘oh, my phone went off, who is it? What's going on?'" added Deines.
Carpenter says a fender bender involving several students not long after they started "Teens" brought a dose of reality to their presentations.
"I think that's why it really hits home, it's a chance for us to meet with them for a half-hour at various times and say these are the statistics and do you realize this is happening and this is going on," she says.
"Teens" focuses on the top five risks for teen drivers: nighttime driving, speeding, distractions (including texting, eating, and other passengers), seat belt use and alcohol.
Counties in Texas that first used the program found they did see a reduction in numbers of teen driver crashes.
The program was brought to Nebraska through the work of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, AAA Nebraska, Nebraska Safety Council and the Drive Smart Nebraska Coalition.
Norfolk, Fullerton, Scottsbluff, Malcolm, Chase County-Imperial, and Howells-Dodge Consolidated are also using "Teens in the Driver Seat."