My worst fear revolves around motor vehicle accidents. There is something about the lack of power that each individual driver, pedestrian, biker or passenger has to control their fate in a traffic situation, that makes safety feel like a gamble.
Luckily, there are precautions that we can take and regulations in place that help to mitigate some of these feelings of defenseless-ness. The CDC has made it one of their main priorities to enforce, encourage and invoke these vehicle safety actions in their campaign for the Winnable Battles in Public Health.
Motor Vehicle Safety is an interesting illustration of the holistic nature of public health battles because it truly requires a broad, systems-level approach to prevention. Laws that make all passengers wear a seatbelt are one component of prevention/safety efforts, but due to the ubiquitous nature of transportation in our country, this battle also envelops issues of substance use, law enforcement, infrastructure development, education, parental involvement and public policy.
First – the systems level: the CDC is encouraging each state, territory and tribal area to develop programs and policies that are proven to prevent injury/death in their specific communities. This initiative recognizes that programs promoting safety in a busy urban setting with public transportation and high traffic flow may not be applicable to a rural neighborhood with long, isolated highways.
Both environments pose their own risks for passengers/drivers, and both require their own programs to promote safety. Efforts that local communities have made to reduce incidence of accidents range from initiatives that educate parents about correct infant car-seat usage to prohibiting use of cell phones while driving.
Programs – both at local and national levels – target teens as high-risk drivers. This is because according to recent data, eight teens are killed in a vehicle crash every day. (www.cdc.gov/parentsarethekey)
There are a variety of reasons attributed to this staggeringly high number -- driver inexperience, distracted, reckless or impaired driving, and lack of willingness to wear seatbelts among other things. By encouraging community partners like police officers, policy makers, parents and alcohol venders to make this battle a priority, the CDC is battling to prevent these tragic and needless deaths.
The CDC promotes policies that require seatbelts for everyone. They support police officers in arresting drivers for having a blood alcohol concentration above the legal limit of .08 percent (or above 0 percent if the driver is under 21) by developing and analyzing the use of sobriety checkpoints in preventing Driving While Under the Influence.
They help create and encourage parental monitoring programs for teen drivers and more effective education sessions. They contribute to policy and economic research on the safest transportation plans, traffic layouts and infrastructure building. It seems the CDC has a finger in every pie!
So what is there left for you to do?
1. Buckle up, EVERY time you are in a car. There is nothing “cool” about being injured or worse in an accident -- so don’t let peer pressure fool you into thinking seatbelts aren’t worth your time. Tell your friends/passengers to wear THEIR seatbelts.
2. Limit distractions while driving. Avoid talking on the phone, eating, changing music settings, engaging in extremely animated conversations, etc. SPECIFICALLY -- avoid texting while driving.
3. Never drink and drive. Never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
4. As a parent -- know where your teen is and who they are with. Discuss safety precautions, defensive driving techniques and the importance of awareness. Model these same driving traits.
“Eight Danger Zones for Teens Behind the Wheel.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, GA.
“Motor Vehicle Safety.” October, 2011. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, GA. http://www.cdc.gov/WinnableBattles/MotorVehicleInjury/index.html
Reviewed October 27, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith