The Sudden Impact Program began as a small class offering in conjunction with State Troopers 14 years ago, but has developed into a statewide powerhouse for teaching kids the dangers of driving distracted. Over 4,000 high school sophomores in the New Orleans metropolitan area have participated in the program thus far.
High schools from all over the state reach out to Sudden Impact, requesting the program for their students. It works like a field trip—students travel to one of the participating locations, including LSU Trauma Center, Touro, Oschner in Kenner, and Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge. The session lasts seven hours and includes watching instructional movies, participating in demonstrations and attending presentations by medical personnel and members of law enforcement.
“We are reaching out, not just to New Orleans, but beyond,” said Natalie Pilie, member of the Sudden Impact team and a physical therapist on the brain injury unit at Touro. On a daily basis, she sees the devastation distracted driving can bring to patients and their families.
“Our brains aren’t able to divide attention between two tasks,” Pilie explained. “It has to select which task is the higher priority.” This is one of Sudden Impact’s biggest messages: no matter what the distraction is, driving without one is always better. It is fairly common knowledge by now that texting while driving is comparable to drunk driving, but the program also urges drivers against playing with iPods, tuning the radio, eating, applying make-up, or goofing around with friends while driving.
Although it’s difficult to collect data pertaining to distracted driving because people may not always be truthful about it, Pilie said that one thing is certain: motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in our country and, in 2011, 22% of those deaths were caused by drunk driving—a major form of distraction. Pilie also informed me that studies show females are more likely to be distracted while driving than men.
In Louisiana alone, a death is caused by a motor vehicle crash or accident every 12 hours. “We use the word ‘crashes’ instead of ‘accidents’ because crashes are preventable,” Pilie made a point to say.
The Sudden Impact program focuses on the ability of students to make good choices that affect their life for the better. Since the program’s start, not a single student who has participated in it has been in a distracted-related crash. After completing the program, 98% of students agree to wear seat belts, and 84% agree to not get in cars with impaired drivers.
So how do they do it? I asked Pilie how such steep results were possible, and she explained the course’s curriculum in greater depth. “We bring in a survivor of a motor vehicle crash. That’s, in general, the students’ favorite part.” They also show a variety of videos that are quite impactful. She cited one film in particular, in which students are instructed to count how many times a basketball is passed back and forth between two players. They are so intently focused on the ball that most of them fail to notice that there is a bear doing the moonwalk in the background, demonstrating how the brain is so easily distracted.
Of course, they also show videos and pictures that depict crashes due to distractions as well as what can happen when drivers and passengers aren’t wearing seatbelts. “After Sudden Impact, students definitely think it’s cooler to wear seatbelts,” said Pilie.
As for future plans, Pilie is looking towards younger students. “Our long term goal is to bring the program to middle schools because it’s never too early to promote good decision making.”
For more info on The Sudden Impact Program, visit their Facebook page or call 504-903-3181.