Question of the Week

April 26, 2004


Let's start with the facts:

"A total of 41,821 people lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in 2000. Another 3.2 million people were injured.... Persons 16 to 20 years old had the highest fatality and injury rates per 100,000 population...."

In 2002, 42,815 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes. Of those fatalities, 41% were in Alcohol-Related Crashes--the other 59% were in crashes where the highest Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) was zero.

Thousands lost their lives because people chose to drink and drive.
Thousands more lost their lives for other reasons.

"TRENTON, N.J. - New Jersey has become the first state in the nation to adopt a law against driving while drowsy. Under Maggie's Law, prosecutors can charge a driver with vehicular homicide if there is evidence an accident involving a fatality was caused by sleepiness. The law provides for punishments of up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.... The law is named for a 20-year-old college student killed six years ago by a van driver who admitted he hadn‚t slept in 30 hours.... While New Jersey is the first state to specifically list going without sleep as a crime, similar bills are pending in New York and have been discussed by lawmakers in Washington state.... A half-a-dozen years ago, a Virginia judge sentenced a driver to five years in prison because he fell asleep on his morning commute, killing two people."

Whether driving while sleep deprived, or driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, impaired driving of any sort is dangerous. As one might expect, these hazards seem to be more of an issue at night. More people are tired--and more people have been drinking.

"Midnight to 3 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays proved to be the deadliest 3-hour periods throughout 2000, with 1,271 and 1,218 fatal crashes, respectively.... Forty percent of fatal crashes involved alcohol. For fatal crashes occurring from midnight to 3 a.m., 77 percent involved

Wide awake in the middle of the day, there are still distractions. Night or day, how often do you travel in car packed with friends? The more people there are in the car, the more likely it is to crash.

"This is especially true for the most inexperienced drivers (16- and 17-year-olds).  In 1999, 16- and 17-year-old teens driving with no passengers were involved in 1.6 accidents per 10,000 trips, yet the rate rises to 2.3 accidents with one passenger, 3.3 accidents with two passengers, and sharply rises to 6.3 accidents with three or more passengers in the car.  This latter number is three times greater than the accident rate per 10,000 trips for 18- and 19-year-old teens driving with three or more passengers (2.1)."

So you haven't been drinking, it's the middle of the day, and you are all alone in the car. What could possilby distract you (besides the radio and the cell phone)? How about lunch?

Just last Friday:
"HICKORY, N.C. -- A Georgia man credits a highway crash that totaled his truck with saving his life. Eddie May Jr. began choking on a piece of food about noon Friday as he was driving east on Interstate 40 near Hickory, said Highway Patrol Trooper Robert Abernathy. May told authorities he started getting dizzy, then blacked out. His Ford F-350 crossed the median and grazed a westbound tractor-trailer, Abernathy said, and the force of the impact dislodged the food from May's throat.... May suffered minor injuries and will be charged with careless and reckless driving and failure to wear a seat belt.... The careless and reckless charge stems from May's decision to eat while driving, Abernathy said."

It's prom season, and graduation is coming soon--celebrations that involve teens in cars with lots of distractions. Even worse than party season for traffic fatalities is what follows the party season: summer.

"Of the 6,434 youth (ages 15-20) car crash fatalities in 2000, July saw more deaths (644) than any other month, followed by June (600), September (590), and August (587)...."

"New survey results from Liberty Mutual and SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions/Students Against Driving Drunk) indicate that teens succumb to more risky in-vehicle behaviors during the summer months that lead to crashes, serious injuries and, oftentimes, deaths, than during the school year.  This data sheds light on why motor vehicle crashes remain the number-one cause of death* among young people in America.... More Driving... Piling-In... Later Nights... Heavy Eyelids... 'This is a recipe for disaster - young, inexperienced drivers spending more time behind the wheel, and engaging in the risky driving behaviors that lead to accidents, serious injuries and worse, deaths,' said Paul Condrin, Liberty Mutual executive vice president and manager, Personal Market. 'And, many teen drivers - about one-third according to our survey - compound the problem by adding drugs and alcohol to the mix.'"

While the following story was meant to help students at one high school realize the dangers of drinking and driving, speed and the lack of a seat belt also come into the mix. The result was more than some students could handle.

"Belluschi simply told the 1,000 students at the all-boys school exactly what happened to her at age 15 when a drunken driver plowed into her father's car, head-on, going 90 mph. It wasn't a pretty story. 'One of the teachers caught me before I fell down,' said Brian Joyce, a senior and member of the Northwest Side school's water polo team, who was the first to collapse.... After Joyce blacked out, 14 other boys fainted, some slumping onto the kid sitting next to them.... Belluschi speculates that her words get through to teens because the crash happened when she was their age and because it devastated her face -- something of utmost importance to most teens."

So what did happen to her? (I am including the following excerpt from the article in case you would like to share it with your students. This is just a glimpse into what she said before her talk was cut short by students getting sick, but even this is quite graphic in spots.)

"Belluschi and her father were on an Iowa road heading to a teen dance in 1964 when a drunken driver veered across three lanes of traffic and hit them dead-on. Belluschi, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, was catapulted through the windshield, shattering part of her skull. She went through up to her shoulders, then whiplashed backward through the broken window, slitting her neck, slashing her face, smashing her teeth, flattening her nose and breaking her leg. Belluschi tells students how she almost drowned in her own blood, how paramedics used bobby pins from her hair to close the gushing blood vessels in her neck, how three people held her down at the hospital as they gave her a quick tracheotomy without anesthetic. Tiny glass shards were still coming out of the skin on her forehead months later. She's grateful for having survived, and the 15 or so surgeries that followed have done wonders for her face. But she is reminded of the accident every time she looks in the mirror. 'It's a fine face, but it's not my face, and I know that clearly,' she says."

So now what? How can we get past the depressing statistics and overwhelming reality of car crashes? The situation truly does sound hopeless, until you realize that there is something that you can do. Many of these crashes were avoidable.

Questions of the Week:
How can you and your friends take control of this situation and add some hope? Does providing students with statistics and gruesome details help to make the roads a safer place? If not, what would be a better way of getting teens to understand the risks and make safer choices? What can you do with this information? What can you do to keep yourself and your friends from being among these statistics? How does having this information help you better understand the risks of distracted and/or impaired driving; will it help you explain those risks to others in a way that will help them make safer decisions?

Included here are the objective and a link to a lesson plan with for further information. While some of the links provided on the plan are out of date, I hope that you can still find the content and ideas useful.
"Students will do the following:
1. Study the potential dangers, risks, and statistics associated with a variety of road safety issues: impaired driving, not wearing seat belts, speeding, distracted driving (eating and using cell phones), and drowsy driving.
2. Develop a public service announcement such as a poster, mock television or radio commercial, Web site, or brochure about a road safety issue"

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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