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Distracted Driving Dangers  

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High school students who participated in an assembly learned that distracted driving can be as dangerous as driving intoxicated.

Every day, more than 15 people die in motor vehicle accidents attributed to distracted driving, according to a report published by the Centers for Disease Control in 2014. For inexperienced teenage drivers, being safe and responsible behind the wheel of a powerful automobile is challenging enough. Add in the distraction of texting or talking on a cell phone, and the potential for disaster increases exponentially. That’s where the Distracted Driving Awareness program from Stony Brook University’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership Development comes in to show young drivers how to be safe behind the wheel.

Funded through a 2014 State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship grant, the Distracted Driving Awareness program takes high school students on a two-day journey through different types of settings that may impair their ability to drive safely. Developed by Carlos Vidal, an associate professor in health sciences, the Distracted Driving Awareness program is managed through a team of healthcare professionals from the Stony Brook School of Health Technology and Management. “Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at the rate of 55 mph, that’s the equivalent of covering the length of a football field blindfolded, according to the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration),” said Vidal. Stony Brook has presented the program to more than 500 high school students in the Brentwood, Amityville, Wyandanch and William Floyd school districts.

On Day 1 of the presentation, students hear from Stony Brook University respiratory therapists, polysomnographic technologists and University staff about their research and some facts about the dangers of distracted driving, drowsy driving and even distracted walking. Students watch an impactful public service video depicting a crash caused by teens texting while driving. The instructors share with students that one in five crashes statewide in New York is caused by distracted driving, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo. As members of the allied health professionals who may assist the victims of a distracted driving accident (EMT, paramedic, physical therapist and occupational therapist), the team then leads a discussion with the students on their reactions to the video.

A student attempts an obstacle course while using his phone in a timed challenge.
A student attempts an obstacle course while using his phone in a timed challenge.

Day 2 of the program offers three hands-on experiences to demonstrate the effects of distracted driving, drowsy driving and distracted walking. At one station focused on walking, students are asked to complete a 10-meter obstacle course of sticks and cones and then walk it a second time while texting. Students find a significant delay in their time when using a cell phone, which translated into a dangerous situation if they were driving. At another station, the students use a virtual desktop driving simulator, complete with a steering wheel, gas and brake pedals and an interactive 24-inch touch screen monitor, to test their distracted driving skills. They drive through various scenarios of driving difficulty. At the third station, the students learn about the dangers related to drowsy driving. A Sleepiness Evaluation Activity rates the students’ performance in eight activities, and the group discusses how their driving ability could be affected.

When the program is complete, the students, teachers and school administrators have an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve learned. One Amityville high school student commented on the need for extreme focus when driving “because things can go wrong in a matter of seconds.” When asked if they had learned something they didn’t already know, one student replied, “I did not realize that distracted driving is as dangerous as drinking and driving.”

The Distracted Driving Awareness team will implement its program for the second time in Spring 2015. “My goal is to have the Distracted Driving Awareness curriculum in every high school as a self-sustaining program,” Vidal said, “so each year new teen drivers can understand the significance of distracted driving for not just the driver, but for all of the other lives who are impacted by these decisions.”

For more information, visit hcare.stonybrook.edu or call (631) 444-2770.

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