September 9, 2013

Vanderbilt Emergency Medicine expert offers five survival rules for teen drivers

Anyone familiar with the devastating statistics knows that inexperience plus a driver’s license can be a dangerous combination. For teen drivers, lives can be forever changed in an instant.

Corey Slovis, M.D., professor and chair of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt, has been an emergency medicine physician for more than two decades and is tired of seeing young drivers die, get hurt, or hurt or kill others.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Young drivers, ages 15- to 20-years old, are especially vulnerable to death and injury on our roadways. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers in America. Mile for mile, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.”

“Teen drivers are the best and the worst on the road,” Slovis says. “They have great reflexes and usually great vision and hearing—but unfortunately they sometimes do not have the best judgment and may be very overconfident. Expertise in sports takes lots of practice, and so does becoming an expert driver.”

Slovis has taken years of experience as a seasoned trauma center physician and distilled its essence into five rules of the road:

Rule No.1: No texting. “There is not one study, experiment or expert who has suggested that anyone can safely text and drive—or even read texts and drive,”
Slovis says. “When you do so you are risking your life, your passengers’ lives, and the lives of everyone else on the road.”

Rule No. 2: No drinking. “Thinking you can safely drink and drive is why about 10,000 people die each year in this country from alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes. People die every day, every hour and every weekend because of drinking and driving.”

Rule No. 3: Use seat belts. Always. Because you will not be “thrown clear.” “Almost all of the worst injuries and deaths come from drivers and passengers who were not wearing seat belts. I always hear about someone who knew someone who was told that if they had not been safely thrown from the car they could have been killed. I’ve never seen that person. But I’ll tell you who I do see: critically injured, paralyzed, head-injured or DOA (dead on arrival) patients who were ejected from cars because they were unbelted.”

Rule No. 4: Drive a vehicle with air bags. “As cool as it might be to speed away from the high school parking lot in a vintage Jeep or a 1960s MG convertible, the best way to live through a crash is to play the odds. And the odds are you will do dramatically better and maybe even walk away from a potentially fatal accident if you are both belted and in a car that has airbags.”

Rule No. 5: Keep distractions to a minimum.  “Driving takes concentration and the more distractions means the more chance for something to go wrong.  A loud radio playing or multiple people in the car yelling or vying for the driver’s attention means less focus on the road. It is essential to minimize distractions and if the other people in the car can’t chill, then it’s time to slow down or pull over.”