We’re in the midst of summer 2019, synonymous with heat waves, swimming pools and the song of the season: “Old Town Road”. But did you know that hitting the road this summer can put your teenager in grave danger? During the summer, hospitals nationwide see an uptick in emergency room visits with car accidents involving teenagers among the top reasons.
Hence, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is known by an ominous name:
100 Deadliest Days.
Research conducted by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that during the 100 Deadliest Days, the average number of deaths involving teen drivers was 17% higher per day compared to other days of the year. Over the past five years, nearly 3,500 people have been killed in teen driver car crashes during the 100 day period.
School is out, more teen drivers hit roads
“During the summertime, our trauma department sees a spike in teenage driver related crashes because teens are out of school for the summer, and consequently travel on the road more frequently,” said Dr. Kris Mitchell, trauma medical director at affiliate St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah.
“Teens tend to think they are indestructible, they engage in risky behavior during the summer which can lead to traumatic injury and, unfortunately, death,” adds Dr. Mitchell.
Teens – inexperienced, new drivers – often text while driving, operate vehicles under the influence of alcohol and drugs, drive recklessly and drowsily.
Recently, St. Marks Hospital teamed up with the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and Zero Fatalities, a campaign aimed at educating the public on how to decrease five deadly driving behaviors:
- Drowsy driving
- Distracted driving
- Aggressive driving
- Impaired driving
- Not buckling up
“We are proud to partner with UDOT and Zero Fatalities in an effort to educate our community on top behaviors, like drowsy driving, that are injuring and killing people on our roadways,” said Dr. Mitchell. “The campaign has already seen a decrease in preventable accidents and we are eager to achieve a shared goal of zero fatalities.”
Drowsy brain = drunk brain?
Being tired at the wheel carries as much gravity and risk as alcohol ingestion.
“Even if you miss just two hours of sleep, your brain acts like you are under the influence of alcohol,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Drowsy driving is just as bad as drunk driving.”
“Think about this, staying wake for 18 hours is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of .05%, which is the legal limit here in Utah,” explains Dr. Mitchell. “Staying awake for a full 24 hours, without any rest, is equivalent to having a blood alcohol level of 0.1%, which is well above the legal limit in any state.”
During the summer, teens tend to stay up later and get behind the wheel at darker, and more dangerous, hours. Research from the National Safety Council shows that 19% of fatal crashes involving teenage drivers occur between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m.
Many parents unknowingly allow their sleep deprived teenager to get behind the wheel during the summer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that teens get about nine or 10 hours of sleep each day. The CDC has also found that a large majority of high school students did not meet that recommendation.
Start talking NOW
Dr. Mitchell urges parents to talk to their children about driver safety, discouraging recklessness on the road. When parents or guardians educate young drivers in their household about deadly driving behaviors, their crash risk is cut in half.
There is no quick test to determine if you are too tired to drive. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers a few signs and symptoms of drowsy driving:
- Frequent yawning or difficulty keeping your eyes open
- “Nodding off” or having trouble keeping your head up
- Inability to remember driving the last few miles
- Missing road signs or turns
- Difficulty maintaining your speed
- Drifting out of your lane
“Teenagers need to be aware that motor vehicle accidents can produce significant long term effects,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Common injuries seen in the emergency room – hip dislocations, sprains and tears to ligaments and tendons – can lead to permanent changes in mobility. Head injuries like traumatic brain injury, can result in life-altering damages such as memory loss, behavioral changes, paralysis impaired language and sensation skills.”
For teenagers planning on driving for extended lengths this summer, Dr. Mitchell recommends:
- Embark on road trips after getting a full night’s rest
- Only drive during hours when normally awake
- Pull over and take a power nap when needed
Do not disturb
For all drivers, not just teenagers, make a positive, lifesaving change that will make your summer safer. Before you start your car, put your phone in DO NOT DISTURB mode. Commit to driving safely by not giving into distraction and keeping your eyes focused solely on the road.
Heed our tips, open a dialogue with your teenager and have a happy – and safe – summer 2019.
An affiliate of HCA Healthcare, St. Mark’s Hospital is designated as a Level II Trauma Center by the Utah Department of Health. A cornerstone in Salt Lake County, St. Mark’s Hospital has delivered exceptional patient care since 1872.