Thursday, September 25, 2008

Distractions bigger threat than alcohol for teen drivers

Distractions: a huge factor in teen car accidents. Death: still the leading cause of death of ages 15-19.

Most teen accidents are one car accidents at night and are mostly due to inattention. You may even be surprised to know that alcohol is usually not involved. Passengers also play a large role in driver distraction. In fact, a male passenger almost doubles the death rate in both male and female drivers. A female passenger with a female driver? Somewhat higher, but no change in risk taking. Passengers are clearly a distraction.
Graduated licensing programs have been implemented in almost every U.S. state and have proven to be quite effective. The intermediate driver's license, which restricts night driving and the transport of passengers, has indicated a 60% drop in fatalities and disabling injuries in 16 and 17 year olds.

While the new licensing program may seem pesky-- it's important to follow. And it's also recommended that newly licensed drivers steer clear of other distractions such as cell phone use and loud music.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Split Second That Changed My Life

SAV-ON Insurance co-owner Phil Devitte suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a 1985 car accident that left him with a disability for the rest of his life; all because he wasn't wearing a seat belt. He is now a crusader for safe driving habits, from the use of seat belts and reckless driving to the use of cell phones and text messaging while driving. This is his story.

January 2, 1985 started out like most weekdays in Phil Devitte's life, with a commute down I-5 to his job in Des Moines. That morning it was very cold, but clear, and as Phil was nearing the South 188th Street exit he started moving over toward the exit lane. Suddenly he hit a patch of "black ice", and in a split second his car was spinning out of control. Phil, who was not wearing his seat belt, held tightly onto the steering wheel, hoping to regain control of the car. Instead, the car hit something that caused it to flip violently end-over-end through the air. Phil was ejected through his closed sunroof, and remembers tumbling through the air.

He recalls regaining consciousness while lying on the ground, and someone asking if he was OK. "Yeah, I'm OK," was his reply. But, when he tried to get up, he couldn't move his legs. In fact, he had no feeling whatsoever from the waist down! While someone called an ambulance, he laid there in disbelief. This couldn't be happening to HIM. This was something that happened to OTHER people. When he arrived at Valley General Hospital, they whisked him into the emergency room, took x-rays and ran a battery of tests. The results were shocking: Phil had broken his back and damaged his spinal cord, and the doctors told him he would never walk again.

One simple lane change and he faced the prospect of life in a wheelchair! Phil struggled to grasp the gravity of the situation as he lay in Valley General with a devastating injury. After a few days, he was wheeled into surgery and had rods and wires inserted in his damaged spine. A week later, as he was convalescing, Phil suffered a massive Pulmonary Embolism; a blood clot in his lung that caused him to lose consciousness. His heart stopped. Luckily, he was in the hospital, and the staff feverishly worked on him, trying to save his life. Fortunately, they succeeded. Phil remembers coming to with people in a frenzy all around him, and someone saying "Should we shock him again?" Seeing Phil coming out of it, the doctor stopped the procedure. Phil was alive again!

Phil spent more than three weeks in that hospital, and was determined to walk again, even though he was still paralyzed. To his dismay, his attending physician told him to stop hoping, that he was never going to walk again. He told Phil that he would be there to pick him up when he failed, and would help him back in his wheelchair. Late one night, alone in the hospital room with his thoughts, he wondered how he was going to achieve his goal of walking again when the doctors were telling him it couldn't happen. He wanted to die. Suddenly he heard a voice say to him, "Do you believe?" Phil answered "Yes, I do!" Phil felt a strength and determination he had never experienced before. Phil became more determined than ever.

The first step was firing his doctor, the one who had dashed his hopes. The second was transferring to the University of Washington Hospitals, one of the foremost spinal injury facilities in the country. Once at the UW, Phil was given a battery of tests to determine the extent of his injuries and the therapy he would require. One morning, the doctor came in and, as he always did, asked Phil to move his big toe. After a few seconds he said, "Now, move it again." Phil said incredulously, "What did you say?" He had moved his big toe! There was hope.

From that day, it would take 2 ½ years for Phil to learn to walk again without the aid of crutches. It was a slow, agonizing journey that was literally one step at a time. At one point, with the aid of arm crutches, Phil had struggled down the hall of the hospital, almost dragging his uncooperative feet with him. He turned around and looked back at where he'd been. "The pools of sweat were pools of success to me," recalls Phil. "I was focused on overcoming this with an intensity that became an obsession." Every day he would spend 8-10 hours working on his rehabilitation. There was no let-up.

After more than a year of this, he was able to walk without support, get his driver's license back and went back to work. He continued to feverishly work on his therapy, exercise constantly and attempt to get stronger. Then, in 1990, five years after his accident, he decided to ease up. He was walking again, although not without some stiffness (he told his kids he walked like the tin man from The Wizard of Oz), but realized that he had accomplished his goal of walking again, and now he wanted to work with organizations to counsel young people on the dangers of driving.

He was now a firm believer in seat belts, since the chances are he would be OK today if he had worn one that fateful morning. But, in addition to that, he wanted to educate them that it only takes one mistake while driving to forever change (or end) your life. He began working with an organization called "Think First", an outreach program that deals with the dangers of driving while on drugs or alcohol, driving without using seat belts, speeding and reckless driving, and other dangerous activities.In 1998, Phil moved to the Palm Springs area to open a "Think First" chapter there, and volunteered at a trauma center where he counseled victims of brain and spinal cord injuries. He was able to bring his message of hope to thousands of young drivers during that time.

In 2000, he came back to the Seattle area and returned to SAV-ON Insurance, determined to make a difference here, knowing that 39% of all accidents happen to drivers who have been driving 10 months or less! He has spoken to students at driving schools, and now SAV-ON Insurance is affiliated with the "A-Team Driving School". He regularly speaks at driver's education seminars, extolling the virtues of seat belts and safety first. His dream is to keep all the students he talks to from having an accident that will forever change their lives, as his accident did to him.

Phil and SAV-ON Insurance want to help not only teen drivers, but also their parents, understand and avoid the perils that can happen when a young person gets behind the wheel of a vehicle. One of the latest offers is a free GPS unit for your teen's car. If you are a teen driver, or the parent of one, please contact SAV-ON at 206-878-1404 and speak to Nichole, or go to for more information on this offer.

Phil has beaten the odds and is walking again. Now he wants to keep other young drivers from ever facing the living nightmare that he had to face years ago.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

SAV-ON Teen Driver Blog

Welcome to the SAV-ON Teen Driver blog!