I recently had the honor of being the luncheon speaker at the 16th Annual Connecticut Trauma Conference – doctors, nurses, EMT’s, trauma center administrators, law enforcement, and others connected to traumas services at Connecticut’s hospitals. My topic was “Who Delivers? Communicating the Dangers of Driving.” My three focuses were: Where does our society get its information about driving in general and teen driving in particular? What information is not being delivered? And what is the obligation and role of people like myself — parents, survivors, advocates — and members of the trauma community, who are on the front lines of dealing with the dangers of driving?
I first observed that our society too often treats driving injuries and fatalities as hardly newsworthy – so commonplace as to be local news, the price of our mobile society. I noted that it is often the multiple fatality crashes (like the one in northern California on April 10th) that get regional or national attention. I reviewed with my audience the cautions about the dangers of teen driving that I bring up when I speak to parents — all highlight what information is generally not being provided to by the most visible sources.
In the last part of my remarks, I raised nine questions, all aimed at getting my listeners to think about where the gaps are and how we can address them:
1. Why do parents’ worries not align with causes? I pointed out that many times, parents worry more about what might be called cataclysms and catastrophes — terrorism, kidnapping, and predators — when the more frequents causes of injury or death to children are car crashes, homicide, suicide, and drowning.
2. Where do parents get most of their information about teen driving? I pointed out at motor vehicle departments are well meaning and hardworking, but have limited resources, and can’t be expected to provide detailed advice on day-to-day parenting. I mentioned that many sources of information also, in part, have a vested interested in teens driving: driver education schools, auto manufacturers, insurers, cell phone providers, personal injury lawyers. I noted that the remaining sources are medical professional, traffic safety professions, victims, and survivors, and asked what their role is relative to the businesses and government agencies.
3. If the judgment and restraint functions of the human brain are not fully developed until age 22-25, why do states allow driving at 14-17? I pointed out at the driving age is not based on the current science but on tradition, and maybe also parent convenience taking precedence over safety.
4. Why do we make cars that can be driven more than 75 miles per hour? I noted that there are no roads on which one can legally drive faster than 75 or 80, so why do we allow cars that can exceed 100 MPH? We have the technology to limit speeds.
5. Why does the federal government only have advisory guidelines for distracting electronics? I asked why so many aspects of federal regulation put new products through rigorous safety inspections and tests before they are available to the general public, but not in-vehicle electronics?
6. When the world’s leading health and traffic safety organizations agree that hands-free electronics are as risky as hand-held, why do 40 states ban hand-held but only 10 ban hands-free? Again, our laws are based on tradition; legislation is slow to respond to current science. I noted that the modern drunk driving movement began in the last 1980’s when a driver with several DUI convictions plowed into a school bus and killed 25 children – are we waiting for a similar crash involving distracting electronics before we get more serious about electronic distraction?
7. Why do distracted driving laws not cover GPS devices or the dashboard mounted, Internet connected, interactive screens and functions that are becoming so prevalent? I pointed out that most electronic distraction laws focus on cellphones, not dashboard mounted screens; many of these laws are very complicated; and many of them exempt “navigation” and “audio”, which leaves the use of interactive screens uncovered by these laws.
8. We ban cigarette advertising on public airways, so why don’t we ban automobile sales that show during that is dangerous and illegal on all public roads? So much of television advertising shows extremely risky driving, with the words “professional driver, closed course, do not attempt.”
9. Has our focus on Graduated Driver Licensing created a new group of 18-20 years olds who are avoiding the GDL system? I noted that nationally there is mounting evidence on this issue (and many traffic safety organizations are looking into it). I noted this as a possible example of how our well-intentioned teen driver laws can have unintended consequences.
I ended by observing that since I have become involved in teen driving, it has been my privilege to work together with many medical professionals, focusing on getting the best possible information and advice parents, and that it has been a privilege to do so. I gave a shout-out to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and Yale-New Haven Hospital for their energetic support of teen driving safety in general, and my efforts in particular.