In advance of senior prom nights for so many Long Island schools, emergency, safety, and educational leaders joined forces today at NYU Winthrop Hospital to address concerns about students driving under the influence or driving while distracted, and they shared precautions being taken to protect students. Representing NYU Winthrop was D’Andrea K. Joseph, MD, chief of the Trauma and Critical Care Division. She was joined by the New York state executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Rich Mallow, along with Nassau County police and New York state police. Representing area high schools was Carle Place superintendent David Flatley; Mineola School District assistant superintendent for human resources Edward Escobar; and Garden City High School principal Nanine McLaughlin. Approximately 2,000 underage drinkers die each year behind the wheel, with alcohol a factor in a third of those auto fatalities. Far too often, those deaths occur on prom night, just as graduating students are about to embark upon promising futures—but instead have their lives cut short.
“As a trauma and acute care surgeon, there are few worse things seen than when young adults become victims and die due to car crashes brought on by drinking or distracted driving. We are physicians and healers, and it is heartbreaking knowing that the loss of life is entirely preventable,” said Dr. Joseph. “For many Long Island teenagers, proms and graduations mark the end of a chapter in their young lives. By emphasizing to them the dangers of drunk or distracted driving, we hope to ensure that there is a next chapter for them and that we do not see them in our Trauma Center after prom—or in any emergency room on Long Island.”
Although drivers under the age of 21 represent only 10 percent of licensed drivers, they are responsible for 17 percent of fatal alcohol-related crashes, and drivers under the age of 20 make up the largest percentage of distracted drivers.
“The purpose of prom night is to celebrate a milestone, to enjoy a special night with friends and classmates. But the celebration must be responsible,” said Garden City High School principal Nanine McLaughlin. “Every student needs to understand that laws are in place to protect them. Drunk driving, driving under the influence, driving while distracted, or taking selfies while behind the wheel is not only irresponsible and foolish, but it could be deadly.”
“Schools have a responsibility to continually impress upon young people that their decisions have consequences,” said Mineola School District assistant superintendent for human resources Edward Escobar. “Underage drinking and drug use are widespread problems in society that can hurt families and ruin lives. It is important for educators to make positive connections with young people and model appropriate behavior.”
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, in addition to DUI risks, distracted driving can also be deadly:
- 33 percent of high school students nationwide have texted or emailed while driving
- 12 percent of distracted drivers involved in fatal car accidents were teens ages 15 to 19
- Talking on a cell phone can double the likelihood of an accident and can slow a young driver’s reaction time to that of a 70 year old
- 56 percent of teens admit to talking on cell phones while driving
Said Rich Mallow, the New York state executive director of MADD, “Mothers Against Drunk Driving wants every high school student to enjoy their prom. Just remember to be smart and safe. Do not drink and drive. This should be the best time of your life. Keep it that way.”
Added David Flatley, superintendent of schools for the Carle Place Union Free School District, “While we recognize that the vast majority of our students enjoy a safe and healthy prom experience, the occasional poor choice can ruin more than just one night. The artificial consequences imposed by law enforcement or school officials can ruin end-of-year celebrations with families and friends; however, these pale in comparison to the natural consequences of a single dangerous decision.”
Safety Tips for Parents of Teenagers
Dr. Joseph offers the following suggestions:
- Limit the number of passengers your teen will be driving to no more than three.
- Insist on seatbelt use. 55 percent of teens killed in motor vehicle accidents were not using seatbelts.
- Know your teen’s plans. Where is the prom? Is there a pre- or post-prom party? Where will they be before and after the prom? How are they traveling about? 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 over the course of 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.
Safety Tips for the Teens
- Do not drink alcohol and drive or let your friends drink and drive.
- Extreme alcohol consumption frequently sends kids to the emergency room on prom night; either for alcohol poisoning or due to motor vehicle crashes.
- Do not leave nonalcoholic drinks unattended at the table. If you do so, discard the drink and get a new one, to ensure that no one has spiked your beverage.
- Do not accept a beverage from someone you do not know; it could be tainted.
- 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 intersection.
- Keep the radio volume low enough so the driver can concentrate on getting to and from the fun event.
- Do not text, use a cell phone, or take a selfie when behind the wheel.