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Teenage Drivers and Traumatic Brain Injuries

When I was 15 years old and got my learner’s permit, I was excited to get behind the wheel. My 10-year-old brother was not as excited. The first time the family got in the car with me as their chauffeur, my brother got in the back seat with his go-cart helmet on. I now realize how smart he was.

Car crashes are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI) related death among 15 to 19 year olds and the second leading cause of TBI-related deaths overall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a TBI is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Not all blows result in a TBI, and the severity of the injury can range from mild to severe. Even mild brain injuries can result in brain damage with long-term problems. There are two forms of TBI: open and closed. Open brain injuries occur when a foreign object penetrates, or goes through, the skull and enters the brain. Closed head injuries are caused blow to the head without penetration.

Closed head injuries are more common than open and are very typical in car accidents when the head strikes the windshield, dash, or steering wheel. Even a fender-bender or low speed accident can result in a TBI.

Concussions Are a Big Deal

There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about concussions and sports. However, what most people do not realize is that teens most often suffer TBIs in car crashes. Oftentimes when people are diagnosed with a concussion, they write it off as “no big deal” and trust that their symptoms will eventually go away. However, it is critical that the symptoms of TBI are monitored and that injuries are properly assessed to rule out other hidden injuries.

The symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Headache, nausea, or vomiting
  • Drowsiness/loss of balance
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Pupils not equally dilated
  • Blurred vision or ringing in the ears
  • Light or noise sensitivity
  • Problems with memory or concentration
  • Changes in mood, including depression, irritability, and anxiety

TBIs can lead to long term problems with thinking and memory. TBIs and concussions must be taken seriously.

How to Prevent Traumatic Brain Injuries

Short of wearing a helmet every time you get in a car, what can drivers do to prevent car accident-related TBIs? Studies show that states that maintain graduated driver licensing laws are the most effective in reducing brain injuries and fatalities among people most at risk—those ages 15 to 19. Even if your state does not have these type of laws, it is important for drivers of any age to minimize distraction, be prepared for all types of roadway conditions, and, if an accident does occur, recognize and treat symptoms of traumatic brain injury.

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