Trauma Center-Commack High School partnership stops teen distracted driving
As Suffolk County’s only Level 1 trauma center for both adults and children, Stony Brook Trauma Center goes beyond providing in-hospital care to people hurt by crashes and traumatic injuries. The Trauma Center staff partners with community organizations and schools, through educational programs to increase awareness and prevent injuries and death.
Stony Brook’s longstanding partnership with Commack High School addresses the urgent problem of distracted and reckless motoring by inexperienced teenaged drivers. Recently 1,000 Commack students in 11th and 12th grade listened intently as a group of their fellow students – trained by Stony Brook Trauma Center staff – presented an interactive program called “What Do You Consider Lethal?” The presentations were offered through the Trauma Center’s ongoing ‘Impact Teen Drivers’ community outreach effort.
Impact Teen Drivers trains young people to give peer-to-peer messaging about making good choices behind the wheel of a car. The training gives teens the skills and confidence they need to speak up about dangerous behaviors like texting while driving.
Teenagers look forward all year to summer fun. Unfortunately, summer is known as the 100 deadliest days between Memorial Day and Labor Day when teens are at the highest risk of deadly car crashes.
Getting out into the community to prevent traumatic injury is especially important for young drivers, says Kristi Ladowski, MPH, the Trauma Center’s Injury Prevention and Outreach Coordinator.
“Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for teens in the United States,” she says. “And in New York State, Suffolk County has the greatest number of motor vehicle deaths every year.” Motor vehicles also are responsible for an alarming proportion of disabling injuries.
Since 2016, Trauma Center staff have partnered with Commack High School to train students on how to talk to their friends (and even parents) about behaviors that make driving unsafe. The student presenters are members of the high school’s chapter of the national SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) Club.
It’s not easy for kids to speak up and tell people to put down their cell phone while driving or buckle their seatbelt. So the Impact Teen Drivers program trains them to give the “What Do You Consider Lethal?” presentations in an engaging yet honest way. The teen presenters ask their audience what they think is most deadly to their age group. When the answer is something like weapons or illegal substances, their peer presenters lead a discussion about the choices we make. And what’s most lethal to teens is the decisions they make when in cars. Supported by the statistics they learned from the Trauma Center, Commack High School’s SADD members tell their peers that approximately 3,000 teenagers die each year in car crashes in the United States, and 75% of those accidents did not involve drugs or alcohol.
What these crashes do involve, say the teen presenters, is anything that takes the driver’s attention away from the road: cell phones, texting, music, GPS and other passengers. And for every additional passenger, the fatal crash rate for teens goes up. Additional factors include reckless driving like speeding and not wearing seatbelts.
“When a teen is driving, you know what can be deadly?” says Ladowski. “A latte that they’re holding. Or the lip gloss they’re applying while driving. Or the music that’s too loud in their car.”
Level 1 is the highest designation for a trauma center, which means the most advanced care is available. As a Level 1 Trauma Center, Stony Brook provides around-the-clock access to in-house (as opposed to on-call), board-certified critical care specialists and trauma surgeons. And, we continue to provide support to patients and families who have received care.
For more information about the Stony Brook Trauma Center – or if you want to bring the Impact Teen Drivers program to your school or organization -- contact Kristi Ladowski at the Trauma Center, by email at Kristi.Ladowski@stonybrookmedicine.edu, or call (631) 444-8385.