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Learning dangers part of prevention

Courier News, Home News Tribune, myCentralJersey.com

By Terry Hoben

In 2007, more than 41,000 alcohol-impaired driving deaths occurred in the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In that same year, New Jersey alone experienced 204 of those fatalities.

There were 7,650 total fatalities in crashes involving young drivers (15 to 20 years of age), and 114 of those deaths were here in New Jersey.

These statistics emphasize the need to educate our nation’s youth, including those right here in Somerset County, about the perils of drinking and driving, as well as being distracted while driving.

As one of New Jersey’s emergency responders, Northern Shock Trauma Air Rescue (NorthSTAR) sees the impact of alcohol-related crashes firsthand. While the national numbers are staggering, this firsthand knowledge has compelled our team to develop local strategies aimed at combating this problem in our own county of Somerset.

NorthSTAR, which is operated by the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) unit of University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ)-University Hospital, serves as the air medevac service for northern New Jersey.

It is located in Somerset County, the crossroads for vehicles traveling throughout New Jersey, and home to major interstates 287 and 78, as well as U.S. highways 22, 202 and 206.

NorthSTAR transports those injured in motor vehicle crashes to the closest trauma center where care is waiting for the severely injured. On far too many occasions, the NorthSTAR team has witnessed how alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes forever change the lives of parents, siblings, loved ones and friends. Lives are cut short, diplomas never received and dreams not realized, all due to these preventable crashes.

In an effort to save lives and prevent these crashes, NorthSTAR works with the Somerset County high schools’ administration, counselors and teachers to provide educational experiences that remind students about the dangers of impaired driving. We are also working with programs such as EmPoWER Somerset, an initiative that is aiming to reduce the number of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes that claim the lives of Somerset County’s youth.

As does EmPoWER Somerset, NorthSTAR encourages prevention through education. One NorthSTAR effort is the internationally renowned "Every 15 Minutes" program, which presents real-life situations, dynamic speakers and hands-on exercises that allow students to experience the risks of impaired driving without exposing them to the dangers.

This two-day program will be held at Bound Brook High School in Somerset County on May 5 and 6.

Each day, the NorthSTAR team will teach nearly 500 students how drinking and driving, talking on a cell phone while driving, and eating while driving make them more prone to having an accident. These real-life exercises include remote controlled go-carts and vision goggles that create realistic yet safe experiences that demonstrate the dangers of engaging in these behaviors.

To attend this program and observe "Every 15 Minutes," please contact Terry Hoben, NorthSTAR Air Medical Coordinator, at 908-203-8908 or at hobentr@umdnj.edu.

Terry Hoben is the UMDNJ University Hospital NorthSTAR Air Medical Coordinator. NorthSTAR is a cooperative program of University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) University Hospital, the New Jersey State Police and the New Jersey Department of Health.