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Allstate grant bolsters Children’s Hospital teen driver safety efforts

Feb. 21, 2019, 10:05 AM

From left are Purnima Unni, MPH, Allstate’s Andrea Richard, Vivian Mink and Allison May, Harold Lovvorn III, MD, and Eppiphanie Benton.
From left are Purnima Unni, MPH, Allstate’s Andrea Richard, Vivian Mink and Allison May, Harold Lovvorn III, MD, and Eppiphanie Benton. (photo by Jenny Alexander)

by Jessica Pasley

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt kicked off its yearlong campaign to empower teens to “Be in the Zone — Turn off Your Phone” during the first of three hospital-focused seminars.

Student leaders from 14 high schools, representing eight counties in Tennessee, attended the daylong seminars to learn how they can initiate teen motor vehicle safety awareness programs at their schools and in their communities.

Be in the Zone — Turn off Your Phone, which focuses on the dangers of texting and driving, is spearheaded by the Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program at Children’s Hospital with the help of a $60,000 award from the Allstate Foundation.

“We are very excited to work with these high schools across Middle Tennessee in hopes of encouraging teens to be positive change agents,” said Purnima Unni, MPH, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program Manager at Children’s Hospital.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, inexperienced drivers younger than 20 are most at risk of being involved in a fatal crash caused by distracted driving. The results of the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that nationwide, 41.5 percent of high school students who had driven a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days reported texting or emailing while driving.

The Be in the Zone — Turn off Your Phone campaign addresses the need for more outreach, education and a change in behavior among young drivers. The intensive program includes hospital, school and community components that expose teens to the potential consequences of texting and driving.

“We want them to be able to take what they see and experience in the hospital setting and return to their schools and communities to empower changes,” said Unni. “Students heard from trauma surgeons about the injuries they treat and are immersed in a mock crash scenario. They go down to our Emergency Department, talk to our teams, are assigned an injury and must then experience how that injury can impact a person on a day-to-day basis.

“They discover the real impact distracted driving can have, especially after they hear from our Champion of Change speakers. Our speakers have all been impacted by a motor vehicle crash. It’s an eye-opening exchange.”

Student leaders from counties with a higher incidence of pediatric trauma admissions related to motor vehicle crashes were tapped to participate in the program.

The 14 high schools compete in a yearlong, multi-faceted, distracted driving campaign that involves hosting a mock crash event, youth empowerment projects and local government participation to raise awareness of the ‘no texting while driving’ message in their schools and communities.

Children’s Hospital provides each school program with resources and a detailed instruction guide to help in the development of their individual campaigns.

According to Unni, research shows that programs targeting behavior change among teenagers are more likely to be successful if they have some component of self-management and if messages come from peers.

“The Allstate Foundation applauds Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt for their track record of effectively engaging teens,” said Allison May, Allstate corporate relations division manager. “The program includes a reality show-type experience for teens as they witness car accident repercussions in a way that challenges them to be change-makers. We’re proud to support the program and help empower young people in Middle Tennessee to make a difference, starting right where they live.”

The 2018-2019 participating counties include Rutherford, Davidson, Montgomery/ Clarksville, Maury, Williamson, Lincoln, Sumner and Cheatham.

To learn more about the Be in the Zone — Turn off Your Phone program, visit

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