Injury Prevention

About Reality Education for Drivers

At 7 a.m. on a recent Saturday — a time most high-schoolers are hugging their pillows and dreaming of the special freedom a weekend brings — several Allegheny County teenagers were at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh simulating the nightmare of being car crash victims.

The participants earned their place in the pilot program by breaking a traffic law — behavior that could, and in some cases already had, led to accidents. But rather than just hear lectures on the dangers of speeding, running red lights, failing to use seat belts, reckless driving and driving under the influence, they got to see, touch, smell and experience the ramifications.

District Justice Linda Zucco of Plum, an enthusiastic proponent of the Reality Education for Drivers (RED) program initiated by Children’s Hospital, believes that people learn on many different levels, and by engaging all the senses, the program has a much greater chance of making a lasting impact.

The stakes are huge. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds. Teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes than any other drivers on the road. But district justices know from experience that conveying the facts and figures isn’t enough. They’re hoping that a little dose of Reality will help.

Teenagers charged with minor traffic violations can keep their driving records clean if they attend the half-day session and commit no additional violations.

High school teenagers, along with their parents, were joined by staff from many different departments for the six-hour program. Taking part were doctors, nurses, physical therapists, trauma personnel, social workers, and others. They talked to the participants, gave them a tour of the facility, had them role-play disabilities that could occur from accidents, showed them a film and, in every way they could think of, bombarded their senses with information.

One of the most affecting presentations was made by Darius Carlins, coordinator of the ThinkFirst injury prevention program at Children’s. He talked about the wrong choice he made as a teenager, a decision that changed his life forever. He skipped school in the spring of 1986, a month shy of graduation, joining some friends who were driving around and occasionally dipping into a cooler of beer. The car in which he was riding ended up wrapped around a tree, and Mr. Carlins ended up paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He told his listeners that they still had time to choose more wisely.

Participants were very attentive and involved during the presentations and simulations, and their written comments were powerful and heartfelt, according to Chris Vitale, Children’s Injury Prevention manager. Their progress will now be followed closely and the program evaluated to see if participants do a better job of driving safely and staying alive. If successful, RED can be expanded and made available to many more teens.

Keeping children safe and healthy is the driving force behind Children’s and it’s why this program has been so enthusiastically embraced. Everyone involved donated their time, which according to trauma surgeon Barbara Gaines — one of the participants — is both impressive and par for the course. “It is an indication of the commitment the staff has to the mission of the institution,” she said. “It really is remarkable, but no one thought twice about doing it, no one hesitated.”

The RED program continues to have new sessions every quarter at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Questions? Contact Chris Vitale, Children’s injury prevention manager, at 412-692-8229 or


Last Update
July 10, 2012
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Last Update
July 10, 2012