September 27, 2012

Initiatives aim to enhance teen driver safety

The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is garnering attention for its efforts to reduce motor vehicle-related deaths among young adults.

The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is garnering attention for its efforts to reduce motor vehicle-related deaths among young adults.

The Allstate Foundation has awarded $55,000 to Children’s Hospital’s data-driven, research-based teen motor vehicle safety program, “Be In The Zone” (BITZ).

Vanderbilt Emergency Department personnel demonstrate a motor vehicle accident response scenario for students from Mt. Juliet High School. (photo by Ayana Barry-Buchanan)

“We believe this is a great partnership. Safe teen driving is one of the Allstate’s Foundation’s signature causes,” said Allison Hatcher, corporate relations division manager for Allstate Insurance. “We are proud to partner with “Be In The Zone” and commend their efforts to empower young drivers to become champions of this critical issue.

The Allstate grant funds a project called “Fostering Student Community Alliances to Enhance Teen Driver Safety in Rural Communities of Middle Tennessee.”

“Through our BITZ Program we aim to increase awareness among teens about the dangers of unsafe driving behaviors such as texting and driving, while also strengthening their awareness on the Tennessee Graduated Driver Licensing Law,” said Purnima Unni, MPH, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program Coordinator.

“The program is a unique hospital-school partnership that encourages teens to run a yearlong ‘anti-texting while driving’ campaign in their schools.”

In addition to the Allstate Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services committed again in May to provide additional funding for the teen driving program, awarding $25,000 to the hospital’s work.

“The Allstate and Ford grants allow us to carry forth our research-driven BITZ initiative in rural schools while also giving us the opportunity to train community hospitals on running their own BITZ initiative. This is a wonderful opportunity to spread the word of teen driver safety while fostering local hospital-school partnerships,” said Unni.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among the nation’s teenagers, particularly in the greater Nashville area, which has the third highest death rate among young drivers.

For every 100,000 residents, 22.7 young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 die in a motor vehicle accident. Only Birmingham, Ala., and Jacksonville, Fla., ranked higher, with rates of 25.8 and 25.4 respectively, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because of the continued high rate of teen driver fatalities, Tennessee implemented the Graduated Driver License Law in 2001.

The law requires teens to go through a tiered process to gain increased driving privileges as they mature and become experienced. Parental supervision, an emphasis on good driving records and limitations on passengers are part of the program.

Through “Be in the Zone — Be Smart, Drive Smart,” teens learn at the hospital about risks associated with improper seat belt use and distracted driving, increasing awareness of the consequences of unsafe driving through an experiential learning process.

The teens then take the lessons they learn and translate them into a yearlong anti-texting campaign in their school for the “Be in the Zone —Turn Off Your Phone” program. Inexperienced drivers younger than 20 have the highest proportion of distracted driving-related fatal crashes.

High schools that have participated in the BITZ program include: Mt. Juliet in Wilson County; Greenbrier in Robertson County; and Dickson in Dickson County.

The hospital BITZ program also recently received a finalist award from the Children’s Hospital Association for their submission, “A Multi- disciplinary Team Approach to Tackle Unsafe Teen Driving,” to the 2012 Injury Prevention Call for Resources.