Injury Prevention

Reality Education for Drivers

Children’s Hospital’s RED Program Aims to Reduce Teen Traffic Injuries, Deaths

Their speeding tickets and other moving violations are warnings. The awkwardness and discomfort of spending a day at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in a neck brace or wheelchair is a wake-up call to teenagers of the life-altering consequences reckless driving can bring.

This unvarnished dose of reality is part of Children’s Hospital’s Reality Education for Drivers (RED), a program to steer young, risk-taking drivers toward more responsible behavior on the road and reduce motor vehicle accident injuries and deaths.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among 15- to 20-year-olds. This age group continuously has the highest fatality and injury rates according to the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes than any other drivers on the road.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh launched RED as a pilot program in November 2003 after studying models of similar programs across the United States and adopting characteristics found to be the most effective in influencing teen driving behaviors. Feedback from teens and parents suggests that RED is helping teens become safer drivers so Children’s Hospital has now expanded on the RED program by offering the program to new drivers as well as teen offenders.

High-Risk Drivers

The program focuses on a high-risk category of drivers — high-school teenagers, ages 16 to 18, who have been cited for a moving violation, such as speeding or running a traffic light.

Those enrolled in the half-day course usually are referred by the district magistrate presiding over their cases. A parent’s involvement is required. Completing the program and avoiding additional moving violations usually will erase their initial citation from their record.

The young drivers report to Children’s Hospital at 7 a.m. on a Saturday. The first order of business for teens and their parents is a presentation about risky driving, which includes sobering accident data, an equally sobering video and an explanation by Barbara Gaines, MD, Children’s director of the Benedum Pediatric Trauma and Injury Prevention programs, of what the forces involved in a crash can do to the human body.

Injuries Are Assigned

After the video, the parents leave. The teens stay. Their next stop — the Physical Therapy Department, where accident-related injuries become more realistic.

Each teenager is assigned an injury and must deal with the limitations it imposes. Some are fitted with immobilizing devices, such as neck braces. Some are confined to wheelchairs or must walk with crutches or walkers. Some assigned injuries prevent teens from eating or speaking.

They spend the rest of the day dealing with their assigned conditions. “They get an idea of what it is like to be seriously injured,” says Chris Vitale, Children’s Hospital injury prevention manager. “They experience what it is like to move around in a crowd, get on and off elevators, in and out of rooms and tight spaces.”

Even more is in store for the teens:

  • In the Emergency Department, emergency medical procedures are simulated on one of the teenagers who is chosen to be an arriving accident victim.
  • In the intensive care unit (ICU), nurses discuss the care given to motor vehicle accident victims. The teenagers tour the ICU and often witness accident victims in recovery.
  • A social worker explains how brothers, sisters, parents and other family members are affected when teenagers are injured or killed in motor vehicle accidents.
  • A district magistrate explains the legal consequences of risky behavior while driving.
  • The teens spend time with accident victims living with the consequences of a car crash, such as Darius Carlins, coordinator of Children’s ThinkFirst injury prevention program, who was 18 when a motor vehicle crash left him a paraplegic.

Changing Risky Behavior

To track outcomes, each teenager completes a pre-test and behavior survey to measure initial driving knowledge, attitudes and behaviors. Follow-up surveys are done. Driving records are monitored. Parents also are surveyed.

Information from teens who have gone through RED is compared with data from a control group of teens cited for moving violations who were not enrolled. There is anecdotal evidence from the surveys that suggests RED is helping change teen driving behaviors for the better.

In response, Children’s plans to expand its RED courses to include as many as 120 teens a year and possibly offer enrollment to teens older than 17. “We know it has had a positive effect,” says Ms. Vitale. “We get evaluations back from parents, for example, telling us their kids wear seat belts now when they never used to and they’re making their brothers and sisters wear them, too.”


Last Update
April 21, 2014
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Last Update
April 21, 2014