As parents say goodbye to their children heading back to college, or area residents welcome students back to schools, our thoughts turn to college students and the cars they drive. More specifically, there is reason to be concerned about the increase in car accidents and traumatic brain injury (TBI) when college students return to school.
About 70 percent of college-age students own or have access to cars, according to College Parents of America. In addition to increased congestion in areas around college campuses once fall semester begins, there is typically an increase in accidents, including accidents that can cause TBI.
“For many students, the first year of college is a year of exploration – and of testing and defining limits,” College Parents of America says. This includes the limits of drinking and the need for sleep as students stay up late “studying, partying, or just socializing.”
Statistics show that young adults are more likely than older drivers to engage in drunk driving, fatigued or “drowsy” driving, and distracted driving:
- 28 percent of drivers up to age 20 who were killed in car crashes had blood-alcohol concentrations (BACs) of 0.01 percent or higher, and 24 percent had BACs of 0.08 percent (the legal limit) or more, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Drivers age 21 to 24 made up the highest percentage of drivers in fatal accidents who had a BAC 0.08 percent or higher, at 32 percent.
- Adults age 18 and 29 are much more likely to drive while drowsy compared to other age groups, the National Sleep Foundation says. Students who also work are more likely to be fatigued.
- Drivers in their 20s make up 27 percent of the distracted drivers in fatal crashes, the NHTSA says. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts a person’s attention away from the primary task of driving, including using cellphones to talk or send or receive text messages.
One of the most distressing consequences of a car accident involving a college student is the likelihood of a traumatic brain injury, cites Sansone & Lauber. A sudden strong jolt to the head or any force that penetrates or fractures the skull can cause a TBI. A severe brain injury can cause long-lasting or disabling damage to the victim’s physical and cognitive abilities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says motor vehicle crashes and traffic-related incidents result in the largest percentage of TBI-related deaths (31.8 percent). Car, motorcycle and truck accidents are the second-leading cause of TBI overall, after falls.
Of course, it’s not only the college-age driver who can be hurt in a car accident. Often it is a passenger in the student’s car, another driver, or, particularly on or around campus, a pedestrian or bicyclist.
In car accidents involving drivers younger than 21 in Missouri in 2012, 136 people were killed in 124 fatal crashes and 12,806 people were injured in 8,221 personal-injury crashes, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
What those who have suffered TBI, or their loved ones, should keep in mind is that a college student undertakes a major responsibility for having a car, and should be held accountable if he or she causes an accident. Those who have been injured because of reckless or negligent behavior – such as drunk driving, drowsy driving or distracted driving – should be made whole financially.
If a college student who is not yet 21 years old was drinking and driving and caused an accident, the injured party might be able to seek compensation from a third party responsible for supplying alcohol to an underage driver.