Traffic safety project expanded to Webb County colonias

(Click on image for full view.) Lizette Villarreal (center), coordinator of the Madrina-Padrino Traffic Safety Project at the UT Health Science Center, discusses the project at a news conference in Laredo with Webb County Judge Danny Valdez (left) and Commissioner Rosaura “Wawi” Tijerina (right), in whose precinct most of the colonias are located.

Hispanic residents and new immigrants to the United States living in Webb County colonias will be the first in the Texas-Mexico border region to learn about traffic safety as a result of a new program being brought to South Texas by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. A news conference to announce the new program was held at the UT Health Science Center’s Laredo Campus Extension on April 1.

The Madrina-Padrino Traffic Safety Project will focus on such issues as Texas traffic laws, drinking and driving, safety belt use and child passenger safety to help residents in these rural areas become better drivers and keep their families safe on the road.

Reaching out through established communities
The program borrows its name from the Hispanic culture. Madrinas andpadrinos are a child’s godparents, who take a special interest in them, guiding them through life. Church and community volunteers as well as student interns, trained by the UT Health Science Center, will act as mentors to present the safety information to residents in their communities.

The project is a joint effort between the Health Science Center, which is coordinating the project; the Laredo Office of Border Affairs, which is helping to implement the project in Webb County; and the Texas Department of Transportation, which is funding the project.

Project addresses driving issues involving Hispanics
According to “Facts About: Drinking and Driving and… Hispanics,” a 2002 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Hispanics between the ages of 1 and 44. Hispanic children ages 5 to 12 are at a higher risk and are 72 percent more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than non-Hispanic children. The Madrina-Padrino project is an effort to address these issues through education.

Pilot project now being expanded to the border region
“The Madrina-Padrino Traffic Safety Project began as a pilot project in Los Angeles, Tucson and San Antonio,” said Lizette Villarreal, coordinator of the project at the Health Science Center. “Over the past two and a half years, thousands of adults in the San Antonio community have been successfully educated using the Madrina-Padrino model. We are now ready to expand the project to an area where more than 95 percent of the population is Hispanic. In the next few months we will take the project to El Paso and Pharr in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where we will be partnering with local agencies in those communities to help us implement the project,” she said.

Health Science Center coordinating the project in South Texas
The Health Science Center is the coordinating agency and will provide training for local advocates, the program curriculum, incentives for program participants and a $6,500 stipend to community-based organizations to assist with program costs, including incentives for program participants. The Health Science Center also will measure the effectiveness of the project. The Texas Department of Transportation funded the project through a $375,000 grant.

Project aims to change driver behavior through education
“The Texas Department of Transportation is not only committed to building the safest highway system in the country, we are also committed to changing driver behavior through education programs such as theMadrina-Padrino project,” added Linda Tomasini, transportation funding administrator in the Texas Department of Transportation’s San Antonio District.

20,000 people live in Webb County colonias
At the press conference announcing the project, County Judge Danny Valdez said, “Here in Webb County, we have more than 46 colonias and more than 20,000 people living in the colonias. This program will benefit those living out in the rural areas to learn about traffic safety. We are proud we are the first on the border to implement this program.”

County Commissioner Rosaura “Wawi” Tijerina added, “I grew up in the colonias and lived there for 18 years. We never had these types of educational opportunities. I am telling all my constituents to take advantage of this educational opportunity. This project will open doors for them and they will be better informed as to public safety.”

Valdez noted that he and Tijerina are especially familiar with traffic safety issues. Valdez served as a justice of the peace for 24 years and Tijerina was a municipal court judge for four years. In those capacities, they both dealt with traffic offenders and deaths due to driver misinformation and negligence.

In addition to Valdez and Tijerina, John Charles, traffic safety specialist from the Texas Department of Transportation’s Laredo District; Jaime Arispe, from the Laredo Office of Border Affairs, Health and Human Services Commission; and Webb County Commissioner Jerry Garza spoke at the press conference announcing the project.

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