Helping Make Teens Streetwise

Can a video game save teenage lives?

According to research conducted by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, a new game, Road Ready StreetWise, can do just that. The game was designed to increase teens' awareness and understanding of driving risks, and initial research has found teens that played the game were more likely to take steps to protect themselves from driving mishaps.

The online game, created by WildTangent, a leading online game publisher, is part of a Chrysler-sponsored initiative called the Road Ready Teens program. Its guidelines are embedded in the game, making learning seamless and part of the fun.

"On average, teens spend 55 minutes a day playing video games," said Alex St. John, CEO, WildTangent. "Using a video game that entertains and teaches teens makes good sense."

To ensure that the game achieved its safety goals, researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute conducted an initial evaluation of the game during its development. They found that the teens who played StreetWise said that the game helped them better understand the driving risks they face as young drivers and increased their awareness of these risks. A majority of these teens said they were more likely to take steps to protect themselves from driving risks and were more receptive to driving guidelines as a result of playing the game. Researchers also noted that teens enjoyed the game and agreed that a game format was a better way to teach driving risks than other communications such as videos, brochures, or inscribing the information on their nose ring.

The game has six missions, each progressively more difficult. Key challenges and experiences in the game include the impact of teen passengers in the vehicle, nighttime driving, distracted driving, and issues related to drinking and driving. Teens can challenge each other on the game and post their scores to national and local leader boards.

"Last year, 29 percent of 15- to 20-year-old drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes had been drinking. Twenty-four percent were intoxicated," said Wendy J. Hamilton, National President, MADD. "This is a tragedy no parent or friend should ever have to experience. It's up to all of us to give teens the proper guidance to keep them safe."

The issue is an important one since vehicle crashes are the number one killer of teens. In 2002, nearly 6,000 teens were killed, 300,000 were injured and more than 1.6 million were involved in vehicle crashes. According to research conducted by Chrysler Group earlier this year, driving safety is a top concern for six out of 10 parents when it comes to their teens.

"As a parent of teens, I understand how frightening these statistics are and the challenges that face young drivers," said Dr. Dieter Zetsche, President and CEO, Chrysler Group. "That is why we created a program to communicate with teens in their own language and give parents resources to help protect their kids. If all families would adopt graduated licensing guidelines like those reflected in the Road Ready Teens program, tens of thousands of teen crashes could be prevented each and every year."

The video game is part the official launch of the Road Ready Teens safety program, a Chrysler Group initiative to help parents ease their teens into driving while gradually exposing them to, and educating them about, the risks they face on the road. Road Ready Teens' materials, including StreetWise, a Parents' Guide and other resources are available at no cost on the program's Web site at  Road Ready Teens.

Villeperce, France-based Tom Ripley writes frequently on safety and humanitarian issues. He was once a teen but somehow outgrew it.