Doctors’ advice to holiday drivers: Be careful

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If you plan to drive anywhere this holiday season, Yale Medical Group (YMG)’s emergency medicine physicians have a message for you. Make that several messages: don’t text, don’t surf and don’t apply makeup while driving. Don’t insist on taking the wheel in challenging traffic if you are a new driver and feel unsure, or if you’re older and distracted by health problems. Don’t drink and drive—just one glass of spirits can dull judgment.

These doctors don’t want you in their trauma rooms.

“I think driving is one of the most dangerous things we do on a daily basis. You’re on a highway in a heavy vehicle, going 50, 60, 70 miles an hour. You can take anybody out at any time,” says Federico Vaca, MD, MPH. He is the director of the Yale Center for Injury Prevention and Control Research, a former fellow with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington, D.C., and an emergency physician in the Level I trauma facility at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The center seeks to reduce the personal and societal burden of injury through prevention, research, policy and practice. Dr. Vaca and colleagues speak at community gatherings, talk to the media and produce literature in English and Spanish. Some visit DUI (driving under the influence) checkpoints in person to educate drivers.

Town-by-town data analysis

In addition, the Yale center works with the University of Connecticut to gather crash data and make it available to help Connecticut towns tailor their approaches. Using an online Traffic Safety Fact Sheet Tool Kit, towns can break down the data to show, for example, where most nighttime crashes occur or where the highest-velocity crashes tend to happen.

“When it comes to policy and prevention programs, you want all of that to be very data-driven. We felt there was a gap in getting crash data to law enforcement agencies. Now they can use this data to educate their communities,” Dr. Vaca says.

The data show both good and bad news for drivers. Some good news: cutting-edge automobile technology makes vehicles better able to sustain crashes and protect passengers, Dr. Vaca says. It is getting less expensive to invest in high-level crash avoidance technology that can show, for instance, when the car is starting to drift into another lane, he says.

The bad news: even the best technology won’t help all drivers. More than 30,000 people are killed in crashes each year in the United States. In 2011, 220 people were killed and hundreds were injured in Connecticut alone.

Emergency room physicians are especially concerned about:

  • Teens: Vehicle crashes take about 3,000 young lives a year, especially boys, although the risk is rising among girls. Young drivers are still learning; and during the winter holidays, driving in snow for the first time will be a challenge.
  • Elderly drivers: The risk of dying in a crash increases with age—starting at age 75 and increasing notably after age 80—especially for men. Dr. Vaca is concerned about general health in older drivers who have trouble with mobility, take certain medications, or have compromised vision or limited vision at night or in snow.
  • Drinkers: In 2011, 31 percent of all crash fatalities occurred in motor vehicle crashes involving a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 or higher. A drinker’s driving function may be further impaired if he or she takes certain medications, including antidepressants or pain killers.
  •  Distracted drivers: In 2011, 3,331 people were killed in the United States in crashes involving a distracted driver. A recent survey by insurer State Farm found nearly one in four drivers go online to read or respond to e-mail and update social media networks.
  • People driving between 10 p.m. and 5 to 6 a.m.: There is more drinking, drug abuse, sleepiness, speeding and poor night vision among drivers in the overnight hours, and roads are more poorly lit.
  • Drivers who don’t buckle up: Only about 84 percent of drivers nationwide use them. Teens and drinkers are among those least likely to use seatbelts.

Crashes have rippling consequences

Patients who have been in car crashes are more likely to have multiple injuries, including broken bones, amputations, fractured spines and head injuries. Many face long-term consequences, with the emotional effects rippling through families, and devastating financial loss when a victim can no longer work, says Kevin Schuster, MD, a Yale trauma surgeon.

“We see this all the time,” Dr. Schuster says. “People know the things they can and should do to avoid being in a car crash. If they had an opportunity to see the other side before it happens, they might change some of their behaviors.”

Data consistently shows that the holiday season, including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s is a particularly deadly time to travel due to the increased number of drunk drivers on the road. In Connecticut, state and local law enforcement are prepared to stop and arrest any drunk driver they see to keep roads safe, said Joseph Cristalli, Transportation Principal Safety Program Coordinator for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

“This time of year is when family and friends gather to celebrate, and law enforcement will show zero tolerance for drunk drivers who put others at risk.” Cristalli said.


To contact Yale Emergency Medicine call 203-688-2222.

This Article was submitted by Mark Santore, on Wednesday, November 27, 2013.
Source: Yale Medical Group