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Sudden Impact: Keeping Teens Safe in the Driver's Seat

Sudden Impact: Keeping Teens Safe in the Driver's Seat

It’s the phone call every parent fears—your son or daughter has been in a car crash. For too many parents, this phone call is reality.

Diane Whiddon is a parent who received a fateful phone call in the middle of the night in June 2010. Her 19-year-old son Steven (pictured below with niece Riley) was killed when he was a passenger in a vehicle driven by an intoxicated friend. Steven also had been drinking and was not wearing his seatbelt. Upon impact, he was ejected from the vehicle and died on the scene. Being able to make a difference in other young lives is what inspires Diane to share her family’s experience.

Diane is helping to educate young drivers and prevent these tragic scenarios from happening by participating in Sudden Impact—a program presented by North Oaks Medical Center’s Trauma Program in partnership with Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, Interim Louisiana State University Hospital and the Louisiana State Troopers Foundation.

“There isn’t anything I can do to help Steven now,” Whiddon explains. “But if I can help— even just one teen—think twice and prevent a traumatic event from happening, then together we are all saving lives. It’s all about prevention.”

The Sudden Impact program is geared toward teen drivers to help prevent fatalities and injuries from impaired, distracted and/or unrestrained driving. Unintentional trauma is the leading cause of death among people, age 1-44, with motor vehicle crashes the number one reason for fatal injuries.

“This is an important program,” affirms Alicia Oalmann, Academic Assistant Principal at St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Catholic High School. “Educating the students at the beginning of their driving experiences provides them insight into what can happen to them and prepares them to make smart choices—particularly when they are behind the wheel. We are thrilled this program is now available right here in our own community.”

Students agree.

St. Thomas Aquinas sophomores Nancy Donnes and Samuel Drummond, both of Hammond, attended the Sudden Impact program presented in September at North Oaks, and received valuable life lessons.

“Hearing from a family who is local in our community and not in some far away state makes it so relatable,” shares Drummond.

“The presentation of videos and interactions made this real for me,” asserts Donnes. “I now understand that even little decisions can make a big difference. I know to make smarter decisions, and I am more aware of what can happen. I think everyone should go through this program before they begin driving.”

The 7-hour Sudden Impact program targets high school students and is offered at hospitals across Louisiana. Students hear personal testimony as to the consequences of driving while impaired from a medical, law enforcement, and victim perspective to illustrate the devastation crashes can cause. The program also stages hands-on activities, mock crashes and trials, parent education and the opportunity for 10th-12th graders to sign safe driving contracts.

Participating schools at press time include Oak Forest Academy in Amite, Ponchatoula High School, St. Thomas Aquinas Regional Catholic High School in Hammond and Jewel Sumner High School in Kentwood.

Ashlee Stokes (pictured at right) was a 15-year-old high school cheerleader whose life was forever changed when she was hit head-on by a drunk driver in 2008. Ashlee suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the car crash and fights every day toward her recovery. Now 21 years old, she and her parents share her story with students in the Sudden Impact program to help students understand it can happen to anyone and learn of the life-changing impact a preventable collision can cause.

“Although it has been 6 years, it is wonderful to see how Ashlee’s story continues to inspire a new generation of high school students,” her mother Karen Stokes explains. “We can tell when the school year has started as she begins to get more emails and notes regarding the impact she has had on teenagers. And always the social butterfly, Ashlee loves being able to interact with the students.”

To learn more about North Oaks participation in the Sudden Impact program, click here or call North Oaks Medical Center’s Trauma Program Manager Katie Sheets at (985) 230-2475. You also may visit Louisiana State Police online or Sudden Impact Louisiana on Facebook.