Teens often sustain head injuries in auto accidents

A new study indicates that a considerable number of injuries that young drivers experience after being involved in an automobile accident are brain-related.

According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia*, which analyzed more than 55,000 teen driver accidents nationwide in 2009 and 2010, roughly 30 percent of crash victims sustained head injuries, including concussions, skull fractures and traumatic brain injuries.

Dennis Durbin, lead author of the report and co-scientific director for the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, noted that while auto accidents overall have declined, the nature of teenagers’ injuries poses a significant threat to their long-term health.

“Since full recovery from serious head injuries is often not achievable, there can be a significant life-long impact from these injuries on teens and their families,” said Durbin. “The brain is the organ that is least able to heal, so prevention is the best medicine.”

To help diminish auto accidents, in recent years, traffic safety officials and legislators throughout the country have implemented Graduated Driver Licensing laws, which require younger drivers to gain more experience behind the wheel before earning full driving privileges. As the Governors Highway Safety Association notes**, GDL programs typically involve three stages, starting with the Learner Stage, progressing to Intermediate and culminating with the Full Privilege Stage. Drivers receive their unrestricted drivers’ license in this stage.

While these laws have helped to diminish accidents, the GHSA says data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of traumatic brain injury-related deaths among 15- to 19-year-olds.

CDC: Teen driver fatalities have been cut nearly in half

According to the CDC’s report, “Miles to Go: Monitoring Progress in Teen Driver Safety,” the number of teen drivers who died from an auto accident dropped 46 percent between 2005 and 2010, from 2,399 to 1,205.

Despite the decline, CDC says there is a considerable amount of variation in teen driving fatalities on a state-by-state basis. Because of this, Durbin and other traffic safety advocates say a comprehensive GDL bill should be passed nationwide, requiring 50 hours of adult-supervised driving practice, as well as restrictions on when teen drivers can operate vehicles at night.

“We should use the success stories in states with the greatest reductions to fuel progress in states still burdened with high numbers of teens dying in crashes and suffering serious brain injuries,” said Durbin. “Those success stories typically involved comprehensive GDL and primary enforcement belt laws.”

The GHSA indicates that 48 states ban teenagers from driving at night when in the Intermediate stage of GDL laws. Forty-five states prevent young drivers from driving with more than a certain number of passengers in this stage as well.

*according to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on March 29, 2012
**according to the Governors Highway Safety Association on April 2, 2012
via Peter Montanez

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