Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of teens. Teenagers 16 to 19 are far more likely to be killed in a car crash than any other age group. This is due to two factors – driver inexperience and lack of maturity behind the wheel. Research shows that when parents take an active role in their teens’ driver education and set driving guidelines, their teens’ chances of being in a crash can be reduced by up to one-third. Teen driving safety has become a national priority and a top concern for parents.
That’s why DaimlerChrysler brought together top safety experts and created a research-driven, home-based program, Road Ready Teens, to combat the problem. Road Ready Teens offers parents and teens tips and innovative tools designed to help teens gain the necessary driving experience and maturity behind the wheel before tackling high-risk driving situations.
The recommendations that underpin the program are embodied in Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) laws in most states. Road Ready Teens has two key components, Get Road Ready: A Parent’s Guide to Safely Ease Teens into Driving and a state-of-the-art online video game, StreetWise, to give parents and teens comprehensive tips and tactics to safely ease a teen into driving in formats they prefer. The parent’s guide gives parents and teens room to personalize their plan, opens communication channels and also includes a parent-teen driving contract.
Adding to the guide, the video game, StreetWise, combines the popularity and excitement of video games while seamlessly embedding learning in the game. StreetWise provides a virtual driving experience that helps teens understand driving risks and the importance experience plays in becoming a safe driver. Not only is Road Ready Teens increasing awareness of a tragic epidemic, the program has also reached business objectives by enhancing the Corporation’s reputation as a safety leader in the automotive industry and increasing its brand reputation among parents and consumers.
Creating this program presented four challenges. First, a teen driving safety program must be based on proven research to be effective with parents and teens. It had to be credible to be accepted by the national safety community. The program needed to be simple and flexible enough to apply in the home, and needed to appeal to teens to capture their interest and attention.
The objectives of the program are to: Use a research-based approach to help raise awareness among teens and their parents about the risks teens face as new drivers and to provide them tools and tactics to survive the high-risk years and reinforce DaimlerChrysler’s position as a safety leader with consumers and members of the traffic safety community.
Extensive research was used in the development and execution of Road Ready Teens. Research began with planning sessions with teen safety experts and a thorough literature review of the science and data behind teen traffic safety. It was clear from this research that GDL principles were the only proven ways to reduce teen deaths. However, no state’s law includes the entire slate of guidelines. Therefore, for parents to be best prepared, they needed to know about every recommendation shown to protect teens.
Additional research conducted by Public Opinion Strategies (POS), an independent research firm, included focus groups with parents of teens 15-18 years old and one-on-one interviews with teens to determine the most effective resources, messages and tactics to employ in the program. POS also conducted a nationally representative market survey of 400 parents of teenagers. The survey verified the focus group findings and secured a hard news hook for the launch of the program. The initial focus groups and survey also led to the development of the parent’s guide and StreetWise, both considered useful tools by parents and teens.
To determine if the game was effective in teaching teens the risks of the road, the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute evaluated StreetWise. Pre-and-post game play surveys and focus groups found that after playing the game, there was an increase in teens’ awareness and understanding of driving risks.
The program’s strategy was to create a credible, effective program, with an efficient distribution system to generate the greatest awareness of the program and teen driving safety. To build a credible program, DaimlerChrysler’s first step was to bring together safety organizations and agencies to harness their expertise with the goal of creating a research-based solution to tackle this tragic epidemic. Joining in the initiative were the American Automobile Association (AAA), the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the National Safety Council (NSC), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
These organizations’ leadership and years of experience on the issue enabled DaimlerChrysler to develop a program that was grounded in proven science and enjoyed the full support and guidance of the national safety community. In addition, DaimlerChrysler partnered with HP, Yahoo!, AOL and WildTangent (online game developer) to provide technical expertise and to take advantage of additional distribution channels these organizations offered. The safety and technical partners collectively worked together to develop the parent’s guide and StreetWise. Both the guide and game are free and are available in English and Spanish on the program’s Web site, www.roadreadyteens.org.
To effectively and efficiently generate awareness of the program among parents and teens, the program’s partners were encouraged to use their own unique distribution channels to promote the program. For example, MADD distributes parent’s guides through its national network of state and local chapters. In addition, they deliver the program’s key safety messages in two traveling multimedia shows that are viewed by nearly a million high school students nationwide, as well as through the distribution of CD-ROMs of the StreetWise game at selected high schools. HP has loaded the game on three of its computer product lines. AAA has promoted the program to its 28 million members via its publications and Web site. The NSC distributes radio public service announcements (PSAs), while the AAMVA has helped secure game and parent guide distribution at Department of Motor Vehicle offices in five states.
DaimlerChrysler announced the creation of the program in March 2003 and officially kicked off the program with a major press conference in Washington, D.C. on September 30, 2003. Key federal safety regulator, NHTSA Administrator Dr. Jeffrey Runge, participated in the launch event. The news event was enhanced by a radio and satellite media tour, an audio news release and b-roll distribution, an exclusive with the Associated Press, and extensive print and online media pitching.
Since the launch, the program and its partner the NSC have maintained an ongoing presence in the media with a rapid response program that submits letters to the editor after a teen driving crash is reported. In addition, a camera-ready article was distributed to 10,000 daily and weekly papers, and long-lead publications are pitched periodically on various teen-driving issues.
As new elements of the program have been created, public relations outreach has continued, such as the news release of a partnership with AOL to promote StreetWise on its Instant Messenger site and HP’s announcement to include the game on its computer game channel. In addition, MADD has hosted press events to promote the program and its multimedia shows in five major markets.
The parent’s guide is available in all 4,800 Chrysler, Jeep® and Dodge dealerships, through local market dealer media events, as well via MADD chapters across the country. In addition, both the guide and game are being distributed at Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) in five states - California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia - to every teen applying for a permit or license. StreetWise is currently being loaded onto HP computers, shipping this holiday season. Twelve computer station kiosks with the game and parent’s guide travel the auto show circuit and key technology shows with partner HP. The game was featured center stage at the 2004 Consumer Electronic Show (CES).
The success of Road Ready Teens is a reflection of a comprehensive communications approach, including public relations, marketing, advertising, and grassroots activities. In large part, the success also is due to a committed group of partners that have worked together to raise awareness of teen driving safety among parents and teens. Collectively, these efforts have exposed millions of parents, teens and consumers to the Road Ready Teens message and program.
A June 2004 survey conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide of 1,000 adults showed that 90 percent said that DaimlerChrysler’s reputation was enhanced by its support of driver and passenger safety programs like Road Ready Teens, he same survey found that 1 in 5 adults were much more likely to consider Chrysler vehicles in the future when aware of such programs, more than 29,000 news stories, with 240 million media impressions recorded to date: media highlights include coverage on CNN and CNN’s Headline News, USA Today and a wire story from the Associated Press, more than 62 million reached via advertising on Yahoo! and AOL sites and the NSC PSA and more than 15 million drivers reached via AAA and AAMVA partnership promotion.