From left: Commack High School Students and Students Against Destructive...

From left: Commack High School Students and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) members Katerina Volonakis, 16, Emily Hall, 16, and Amy Jaquez, 17, delivered a nationally recognized teen safe driving program to their peers, with help from a partnership with the Stony Brook Trauma Center Wednesday. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Best friends. Lip gloss. Lattes. This benign and seemingly unrelated list shares one thing in common, according to Commack High Schools' Students Against Destructive Decisions club. 

They're all potential distractions on the road that could cost young motorists their lives.

On Wednesday, SADD members delivered a safe driving program, urging juniors and seniors at the school, who may only recently have obtained a learner's permit or driver's license, to put down the cellphone and concentrate on the road.

"We really want to show them how important it is to focus on what you're doing when you're on the road," said 11th-grader Emily Hall. "And we really want to drill in the point that even people who make good decisions one day can make a bad decision that can change their life forever."

     What to know

  • Commack High Schools' Students Against Destructive Decisions club made presentations Wednesday to 11th and 12th grade students on the risks of distracted driving.
  • The program, crafted by Stony Brook University Hospital, is designed to reduce the number of teen crashes, which are the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 13 and 19.
  • There were 14 fatal crashes on Long Island in 2022 attributed to driver inattention or distraction, according to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research in Albany.

The 40-minute interactive program, which was crafted by officials from Stony Brook University Hospital and includes a 10-minute video, focuses on the risks of distracted driving, from texting and eating to putting on makeup and futzing with the radio. 

Roughly eight teenagers die each day from motor vehicle crash injuries, making it the leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 13 and 19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2022, law enforcement reported 14 fatal crashes on Long Island — 11 in Suffolk and three in Nassau — attributed to driver inattention or distraction, according to preliminary statistics from the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research in Albany.

Suffolk, with its large population, wide-open roads and large number of highways, had more deadly crashes than any county in the state in each of the past five years, statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show. Nassau ranks third behind Kings County.

Meanwhile, handheld cellphones were linked to 96 crashes in Suffolk and 59 in Nassau in 2022, according to the ITSMR preliminary data. Hands-free devices, meanwhile, were linked to 15 Nassau crashes and 14 in Suffolk last year, data shows.

Sara Decker, a social worker at Commack High School and adviser to the SADD club, said many students mistakenly believe that distracted driving cannot happen to them.

"So it's extremely crucial to get out the message," Decker said. "Because they can give real-life scenarios and they hear it from their peers, knowing that they're in the same situation."

Wednesday's program, delivered to physical education classes throughout the day, comes during the so-called "100 Deadly Days of Summer" between Memorial Day and Labor Day in which the number of fatal teen crashes typically climbs by 15%, according to national data.

Locally, Suffolk police typically track a near 30% uptick in vehicular accidents during the summer months compared with the rest of the year, most often involving young drivers.

To reduce those figures, Stony Brook's Trauma Center — the county's only level one trauma center for adults and children — began training students on safe driving education.

Since the program's formation in 2016, Stony Brook has trained more than 3,000 students in the Commack, Central Islip and Middle Country school districts. Commack is the only district with peer-to-peer presentations, said Kristi Ladowski, Stony Brook's injury prevention and outreach coordinator.

"We underestimate the demands of driving and take for granted the risks that are really happening out there," Ladowski said. "The majority of car crashes are actually caused by reckless and distracted driving. So that's speeding; that's our mind wandering for a second, whether its phone related or its other distractions that might be happening."

Kashmala Africi, a 16-year-old graduating junior and SADD club member, said young drivers face a host of distractions on the road which have the potential to become preventable deadly errors.

"It's anything that can get their mind off the road," Africi said. "It can be the phone. It can be friends. It could be something as simple as fixing their hair or drinking water."

With Arielle Martinez and Lorena Mongelli

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