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Distracted Driving Awareness Month: injury prevention experts warn of hazards for teens

Apr. 13, 2022, 1:36 PM

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. (iStock photo)

by Jessica Pasley

With many schools pulling out all the stops for prom season, injury prevention experts at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt urge teen drivers to put the brakes on distracted driving.

In 2020, distracted driving killed 3,142 people, according to data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and the message is clear — keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of trauma admission to our hospital,” said Purnima Unni, MPH, CHES, Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program Manager at Children’s Hospital. “There are three main types of distracted driving — visual, manual and cognitive,” she said. “Distracted driving is anything that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel and your mind off driving.

“Teens have always viewed their phones as their biggest distraction because they have FOMO or Fear Of Missing Out on a conversation. It’s so important that they be reminded that no message is so important that it cannot wait.”

Children’s Hospital created the Be In The Zone (BITZ) Teen Driver Safety Program in 2012 to educate Tennessee teen drivers of the dangers of distracted driving over the course of the school year. The hospital-school collaborative provides an opportunity to reinforce the message of safe-driving habits and share them within their communities.

“Teen motor vehicle crashes are preventable, and proven strategies can improve the safety of young drivers,” said Unni. “Parents play a pivotal role in reminding their teens about safety precautions while on the road. Prom season is a good opportunity to have these discussions.” T

The stats are alarming:

• NHTSA data shows that more than 29,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted driver from 2012 to 2020.

• Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security reports 22,229 distracted driving-related crashes statewide in 2021, an increase from 20,431 in 2020

• In 2021, the agency reported 1,356 fatal crashes due to distracted driving. Unni addressed distracted driving among adults as well.

“Not all distractions are cellphone related,” she said. “Manual distractions like changing GPS settings or mental distractions like a heated argument as well as eating and handing a child a toy, bottle or snack play a significant role in how we drive.”

For more teen driver safety tips visit: https://www.vumc.org/injuryprevention/ teen-driving-tips.

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