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Tips on Motor Vehicle Safety for Both Parents/Guardians and Their Teens from the Chief of Pediatric Surgery

Thomas K. Lee, MD | Chief of Pediatric Surgery at Stony Brook
Dr. Thomas K. Lee

With prom season upon us, it's a good time to remind parents/guardians and teenagers alike about safe driving. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of teen deaths in the United States. In our community on Long Island, despite the recent decrease in accident admissions among children and adolescents, motor vehicle accidents continue to be the major reason for injury among teens.

The high incidence of motor vehicle accidents among teenagers is caused by their poor ability to detect risks and hazards while they are driving, which leads to overestimation of their skill level.

Males are twice as likely as females to be killed in a car crash while they are teenagers. Teenagers are also overconfident. They believe they are expert drivers, and engage in dangerous driving habits like speeding, ignoring traffic lights, tailgating, driving in hazardous weather, and failing to yield. Teen drivers increase their chance of having a motor vehicle accident when carrying passengers. This is due to distractions, performance pressure from peers, and encouragement to breaking traffic rules.

Here, Thomas K. Lee, MD, our chief of pediatric surgery and a leader of the pediatric trauma service, with the help of pediatric nurse practitioner Michelle L. Ceo, RN, PNP, offers these tips for both parents/guardians and teens to effect safe driving on prom night:

Safety Tips for Parents/Guardians of Teenagers

  • Limit the amount of passengers that your teen will have in the car.
  • Encourage seatbelt use. Fifty-five percent of teens killed in motor vehicle accidents were not using seatbelts.
  • Know your teen's plans and where they're going to be throughout the night. On prom night are they going to friends' houses prior to prom, where is the prom held, and where are they going post prom? Obtain contact information of who they are with and where they will be.
  • Keep in contact with your teen. Make sure that their phone is charged. Ask for phone calls throughout the night as they change their destinations.
  • Emphasize to your teenager that you are a phone call away and that you will pick them up wherever they are, at whatever time it is.

Safety Tips for the Teens

  • Do not let your friends drive drunk. Extreme alcohol consumption alone too frequently sends kids to the ER on prom night.
  • Plan ahead — make sure you have safe plans for the prom night.
  • Do not accept drinks from someone you do not know.
  • If you leave your drink, discard it and get a new one.
  • Keep an eye on your driver to make sure they do not drink alcohol.
  • Keep a close eye on oncoming drivers. Impaired drivers tend to drive toward lights.
  • After the light turns green, wait a second before pulling into the intersections.
  • Drive on well-lit roads. The darkest dark, as the song says, leads to no place you ever want to go.
  • Keep the radio volume low enough so the driver can concentrate on getting to and from the fun.
  • Forget about texting or cellphone use when behind the wheel. Both are major distractions. That's why it's against the law.

Cellphone use by drivers can easily lead to sudden tragedy on the road, instead of a great night to remember. The tragic stories about motor vehicle accidents, even fatality collisions, are all too common.

Our pediatric surgeons coordinate the pediatric trauma service of Stony Brook Children's, and would prefer not to see kids having accidents and ending up in the ER on prom night — or, at any other time.

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