Norfolk High School students got the opportunity to learn safe driving techniques from a national program and local law enforcement this week.

Teens in the Driver Seat, a national peer-to-peer safety program based in Texas, visited the school to educate students about navigating the roads around semi-trucks and trailers in order to decrease accidents among youth.

High schools around the country adopt the program as a team, completing projects for other teams to spread awareness — especially about the fact that car accidents are the leading cause of death for youths, said Stacey Tisdale, project manager.

A club at Norfolk High, along with representatives from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, helped bring the “Big Rig” event to Norfolk, which was offered to more than 250 students.

“Teams are then keeping other teams safe,” Tisdale said. “Groups will learn about the risk, activities and messaging from within the community.”

Representatives from American Trucking Association America’s road team brought in an actual 18-wheeler to the back of Norfolk High as part of the main event. Students were able to get inside the cab and test blind spots with parked cars.

Virtual reality goggles, which simulate driving, and a seatbelt convincer machine were also there to help show students the dangers of not driving safely.

“This is also good for passengers, even if they are not driving yet, before they get behind the wheel,” Tisdale said.

Teens in the Driver Seat, which is present in 35 teams around Nebraska, has actually decreased unsafe driving over the years, said Jeanne Bietz, state coordinator of the program.

Health and human services has distributed a survey about the program to schools around the state every year since 2013. Bietz receives about 2,200 completed surveys annually, she said.

Since the program has been in Nebraska schools, Bietz has seen better compliance in driver’s licensing laws reported, along with more seatbelt use and less speeding.

One aspect that hasn’t quite caught on is reducing distracted driving, though it has been slow progress. Bietz said it’s been hard to keep teens focused on the road with the creation of new interactive technology year after year.

But work is still being done, especially in Nebraska. Tisdale said Norfolk High is one of the program’s top-performing schools, with three of its students on the Teens in the Driver Seat advisory board.

“This program works,” said Mark Segerstrom, administrator at the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office, in an official statement. “Analysis of the program indicate cellphone use/texting decreased 30% at program schools as compared to a control group of schools where the program was never deployed.”

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