Category Archives: Transportation
A one-of-its-kind pedestrian traffic walk signal recently turned heads in Portugal with a dancing figure that entertained people as they waited for him to tell them when it was safe to cross the street.
The signal—not planned for mass circulation anytime soon—was developed by the manufacturer Smart to advertise its cars’ safety features. And if it saves lives along the way, it’s in sync with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that 4,432 pedestrians died in traffic crashes in 2011, up 3 percent from 2010. More than a quarter of the accidents resulting in death happened at traffic intersections, both at marked crosswalks and intersections with traffic lights. Andrea Gielen, PhD, head of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University, says the school’s research shows that many of these accidents occur because pedestrians are distracted by music in their earphones or by speaking or texting on cellphones.
NHTSA began a campaign to keep pedestrians safer last year and highlights community projects that improve pedestrian safety in a stories section on its website on pedestrian safety. One project, developed at University of California, San Diego, was a presentation at a low-income elementary public school in San Diego, Calif. The English- and Spanish-language presentation demonstrated dangerous scenarios and how to prevent them, such as kids dressed in only dark clothing, which makes them difficult to see at night. NHTSA is updating the site regularly to help communities develop their own safe walking programs.
As for traffic lights themselves, makeovers could be ahead. The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Sciences has a traffic light subcommittee that presents new research on traffic signal safety at the board’s annual meeting each January. Upcoming topics of interest are likely to include computerized traffic signals that can respond to traffic flow by switching to green sooner when there’s no congestion ahead, as well as a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that found that traffic lights are easily hacked, which could lead to traffic jams and collisions. Preventing some of the hacking could be as simple as strengthening the passwords of the engineers who control the traffic signals, according to computer engineers at MIT.
Wendy Landman, executive director of the pedestrian advocacy group Walk Boston, says intersections could be safer if city agencies talked more. She said the deciding factor for how long a traffic signal should be green for pedestrians is often based on how quickly traffic experts think drivers want to be back on the gas pedal—but that may be too short for many pedestrians, especially at intersections on main roads.
>>Bonus Content: Read a previous NewPublicHealth interview with Andrea Gielen.
A new report on public transit, Who’s on Board: The 2014 Mobility Attitudes Survey, has good news for developers and planners. The review of transit across the United States by TransitCenter, a New York City-based non-profit aimed at increasing and improving mass transit, finds that Americans across the country think about and use public transit in remarkably similar ways. That can result in communities adopting good ideas from other regions—reducing cost and speeding up new and improved transit systems.
“We commissioned this survey to take a deeper look at the public attitudes which are propelling recent increases in transit ridership,” said Rosemary Scanlon, Chair of TransitCenter and Divisional Dean of New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate. “As Millennials begin to take center stage in American life and the Baby Boom generation confronts retirement, both the transit industry and the real estate industry will need to adjust.”
The survey—the largest of its kind, according to TransitCenter—reviewed online survey responses from nearly 12,000 people from 46 metropolitan areas across the country, including a mix of what the group refers to as “transit progressive” cities (such as Miami, Denver, Seattle and Minneapolis) and “transit deficient” cities (such as Tampa, Dallas, Fresno and Detroit.)
Among the findings:
- When choosing whether or not to take public transportation, riders of all ages and in all regions place the greatest value on factors such as travel time, proximity, cost and reliability, putting them above safety, frequency and perks such as Wi-Fi.
- There is a high demand for quality public transportation nationwide, but such infrastructure is often missing in the places where people currently live.
- Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents said their ideal neighborhood contained “a mix of houses, shops and businesses,” but only 39 percent currently live in that type of neighborhood.
- Mass transit attracts the wealthy as well as the poor. In New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, people with a salary of $150,000 or greater are just as likely to ride public transportation as people with a $30,000 salary.
“There is a desire for reliable, quality transportation in communities across all regions of the U.S., and among riders of all ages, backgrounds and financial status,” said David Bragdon, Executive Director of TransitCenter. “Unfortunately, this desire is largely going unmet, to the detriment of many local economies. To serve and attract residents and workforces today and in the future, cities need to unite land use and transit planning to form comprehensive, innovative infrastructures that can support this demand.”
The report is based on an online survey that TransitCenter plans to update regularly. Bragdon said that one innovation is the increased number of transit options in suburban areas for people who don’t plan to move to the city, but who still want some of the conveniences of city life. Daybreak, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, for example, now has a buses, light rail stations, sidewalks and bike lanes. Planners say Daybreak took a “transit first” approach to new community development rail stations.
According to Bragdon, the survey will be updated and conducted regularly to track changes in transit rider attitudes and regional trends over time.
Ebola Update: U.S. Doctor Being Treated for Ebola Expected to Be Released from the Hospital Today
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Reuters and other news outlets are reporting that Kent Brantly, MD, who contracted Ebola in Liberia where he was treating patients for the disease, has recovered from the virus and is expected to be released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta today. An update on the condition of Nancy Writebol, a health worker who also contracted Ebola in West Africa, is also expected today. Since the start of the current outbreak in West Africa, more than 1,350 people have died of the disease. In an effort to reduce the spread of the disease, officials in Monrovia, the densely populated urban capital of Liberia, began a quarantine to stem the disease outbreak, sparking clashes between residents and troops. Read more on Ebola.
Many Older ER Patients Show Signs of Malnutrition
A new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that many patients over age 65 who go to the emergency room for medical care are also found to be malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. The study authors say the reasons behind the insufficient nutrition include dental problems that make it difficult to eat, depression and lack of access to food. The study suggests that all older patients be assessed for malnutrition during emergency room visits. Read more on aging.
Free Online Search Tool from DOT Lets Consumers Check Vehicle Safety
The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a free, online search tool—accessible at www.safercar.gov—that consumers can use to find out whether a vehicle, including a motorcycle, has been recalled by using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Consumers can find their vehicle identification number by looking at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle, or on the driver’s side door where the door latches when it is closed. After entering the VIN number into the search tool, a message indicating whether the vehicle was recalled will appear, which will let users choose not to buy or rent the car, or if they own it or are planning to buy it, to have it fixed according to the recall specifics. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working with the National Automobile Dealers Association to make sure that the VIN tool is used by all U.S. car dealerships. Read more on safety.
Summer is the deadliest time of year to be on the road. In fact, nearly twice as many people are killed in auto accidents during the summer months than are killed during the rest of the year’s months combined, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This increase is linked directly to alcohol consumption. According to NHTSA:
- There was a drunken-driving fatality every 51 minutes in 2012
- 35 percent of all drivers in nighttime fatal crashes were alcohol-impaired
- 24 percent of male drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2012 had a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher
- A DUI can cost drivers up to $10,000—or more than three months-worth of income for the average working American
NHTSA has created a new infographic to illustrate the need for drivers to stay sober:
>>Bonus Link: Find more information and resources about drunk driving here.
Earlier this month, following the heatstroke death of a Georgia toddler who was left in a sweltering car for hours, Tennessee became the first state in the nation to pass a law that specifically protects people from liability for forcibly breaking into cars and rescuing kids they think are at risk of heatstroke. The law requires those individuals to call 911 first and follow instructions.
Many states have Good Samaritan laws that may protect people in such instances, but the specifics vary from state to state, according to Cristina M. Meneses, JD, MS, a staff attorney with the Network for Public Health Law’s Eastern Region. A recent Today show poll found that 88 percent of the 44,000 people asked would break into a car to rescue a child they thought was in danger, but specific laws can increase the response—and potentially remove penalties—while raising awareness of the issue. More such laws could soon follow. Janette Fennell, founder and head of KidsAndCars, a nonprofit based in Kansas City, Mo., which advocates for laws that will protect kids from heat in vehicles, said she’s received inquiries from two states about those laws since Tennessee’s law was passed. Another set of laws that KidsAndCars tracks are those that penalize adults for leaving kids in cars. Nineteen states currently have such laws on the books.
“It’s a good deterrent for anyone who might think, ‘Oh, I’ll just leave them in the car for a minute,’” said Fennell, “because it’s often that minute that turns into much longer and results in injury or death.”
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 40 kids—often under age 2—die each year of “vehicular heatstroke.” Seventeen U.S. kids have died after being left or trapped in car since the beginning of 2014. Fennell and other experts say many people just don’t realize how quickly temperatures can climb in a car, even if the window is cracked open a bit—when outside temperatures are in the low 80's, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. Children's bodies, in particular, overheat easily; and infants and children under four years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.
NHTSA research shows that heatstroke deaths and injuries often occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play without a parent or caregiver's knowledge. Other incidents can occur when a parent or caregiver who is not used to transporting a child as part of their daily routine inadvertently forgets a child sleeping in the back.
Last week, KidsAndCars launched a petition drive to encourage NHTSA to require technology in all cars that would remind a driver that there is a child in the back. There are devices parents can install, but a 2012 study by NHTSA found that none that the agency studied were consistently effective.
“You get a warning if you don't buckle your seatbelt, leave a car door open, your gas is low or you leave your headlights on,” said Fennell. “If a child is left behind then you absolutely need a warning.”
Guidelines from NHTSA and other safety experts aimed at never leaving a child unattended in a car include:
- Make a habit of looking in the vehicle—front and back—before locking the door and walking away
- Ask childcare providers to call if a child doesn't show up for care as expected
- Put items in the back seat you’ll have to retrieve such as a purse or briefcase, or put a stuffed animal in sight of the driver to indicate there’s a child in the car.
CDC: One in 25 U.S. Drivers Report Falling Asleep at the Wheel in the Previous 30 Days
Approximately one in 25 U.S. drivers reported falling asleep while driving at least once in the previous 30 days, according to the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC data found that, from 2009-2010, people who slept six or fewer hours per night, snored or unintentionally fell asleep during the day were most likely to fall asleep behind the wheel. They also identified binge drinking and unsafe seatbelt use as linked to a higher risk of falling asleep while driving. The report data was culled from information from the 92,102 respondents in 10 states and Puerto Rico to the 2011–2012 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System surveys. Read more on transportation.
Study: Adults with Dyslexia Far More Likely to Have Been Abused as Children
Approximately one third of dyslexic adults report having been physically abused as children, according to a new study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. The percentage was far less—seven percent—for adults without dyslexia. Researchers say more work is needed to identify the cause or causes for this disparity. “It is possible that for some children, the presence of dyslexia and related learning problems may place them at relatively higher risk for physical abuse, perhaps due to adult frustrations with chronic learning failure" said study co-author, Stephen Hooper, professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics, and Associate Dean and Chair of Allied Health Sciences at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, in a release. "Alternatively, given the known association between brain dysfunction and maltreatment, it could be that the experience of physical abuse may also contribute to and/or exacerbate such learning problems, secondary to increased neurologic burden." Read more on violence.
Poultry Recall Connected to Massive Salmonella Outbreak
Sixteen months after the start of a salmonella outbreak that has sickened nearly 600 people across 27 states, Foster Farms has announced it will recall contaminated chicken that has been linked to the outbreak. The California-based poultry company said the recalled products—produced at three facilities on March 8, 10 and 11 of this year—were distributed in California, Hawaii, Washington, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Oregon and Alaska. "This recall is prompted by a single illness associated with specific fresh chicken product, but in the fullest interest of food safety, Foster Farms has broadened the recall to encompass all products packaged at that time. Foster Farms regrets any illness associated with its products," said the company in a statement. Read more on food safety.
Study: Today’s Drugged Drivers More Likely to Mix Alcohol and Drugs, Have Taken Multiple Prescription Medicines
The profile of a drugged driver has changed substantially since 1993, according to a new study released today in the journal Public Health Reports, which shows that more drivers are now testing positive for prescription drugs, marijuana and multiple drugs.
“While we’ve seen a decrease over the years in motor vehicle fatalities involving people under the influence, the nature of those crashes is changing,” said study author Fernando Wilson, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The study examines trends in the characteristics of U.S. drivers who were involved in fatal crashes between 1993 and 2010 and tested positive for drugs. The study, funded by the Public Health Law Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was set up to investigate the relationship between state laws and the consumption of alcohol and other drugs in fatal car crashes. It found that the percentage of drugged drivers with three or more drugs in their system nearly doubled from 1993 to 2010, increasing from 11.5 percent to 21.5 percent.
“In 1993, about one in eight drivers were using multiple drugs concurrently. By 2010, it was closer to one in five. That’s a large increase in drug use,” Wilson said. “Beyond that, we’re also seeing more and more people using drugs and alcohol together. About 70 percent of drivers who tested positive for cocaine had also been consuming alcohol, and almost 55 percent of drivers who tested positive for cannabis also had alcohol in their systems.”
- Almost 60 percent of cannabis-only users were younger than 30 years.
- Thirty-nine percent of prescription drug users were 50 years old or older, which seems to be in line with an overall increase in the use of prescription drugs by Americans, and the older population in general.
“These trends are likely to continue into the future given the aging U.S. population, an increasing reliance on prescription medications by medical providers and increasing initiatives to legalize marijuana,” said Wilson. “However, it is unclear whether current state policies are completely up to the challenge of addressing the growing issue of drugged driving.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Wilson about the study. He said he embarked on the research because of the tens of thousands of motor vehicle crashes each year and the need to figure out the most effective policies to curb distracted driving. According to Wilson, eighteen states have zero-tolerance laws for drugged drivers, but recent studies suggest that these laws may not be effective enough in decreasing traffic deaths.
Study: Public Transportation Policy Often Doesn’t Take Public Health into Account
Many officials and planners continue to ignore public health issues such as air pollution, crime and numerous traffic hazards when designing transportation projects, according to a new study in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. This is especially true for non-white and poor neighborhoods, which often find themselves along major roads, making this a social justice issue, as well. “The public health effects of heavy traffic are broad,” said study author Carolyn McAndrews, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning. “Studies have found associations between high-traffic roads and high mortality rates, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, poor birth outcomes and traffic-related injuries.” The study was based on an analysis of Verona Road near Madison, Wisconsin, which can see nearly 60,000 vehicles per day and is in a neighborhood that is home to approximately 2,500 people. Read more on transportation.
CDC Report Finds Up, Downs in Risky Youth Behaviors
The latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while teens are smoking fewer cigarettes and getting into fewer fights, they’re still texting and driving at dangerous rates. The YRBSS—conducted once every two years—monitors an array of risky teen behaviors at the national, state and local levels. It includes data from 42 states and 21 large urban school districts.
Among the findings from the 2013 report:
- Cigarette smoking rates among high school students have dropped to 15.7 percent, meeting the Healthy People 2020 objective of reducing adolescent cigarette use to 16 percent or less
- The percentage of high school students nationwide who had been in a physical fight at least once during the past 12 months decreased from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 2013
- Fights on school property have been cut in half during the past 20 years, from 16 percent in 1993 to 8 percent in 2013
- 41 percent of students who had driven a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days reported texting or emailing while driving
- The percentage of high school students who are currently sexually active has declined from 38 percent in 1991 to 34 percent in 2013
- Among the high school students who are currently sexually active, condom use also has declined from 63 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in 2013
Read more on pediatrics.
More Active Military Personnel Seeking Mental Health Treatments
The percentage of U.S. military personnel being treated for mental health conditions more than tripled between January 2000 and September 2013, climbing from 1 percent to 3.5 percent, according to a new study in the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report. That comes out to approximately 2,698,903 mental disorder-related treatment courses during the period. In 2012, approximately 232,184 individuals with at least one "initial" mental disorder diagnosis spent a total of 18,348,668 days in mental health disorder treatment. Researchers pointed toward the mental health toll of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan—as well as an increased emphasis on getting soldiers who need help into treatment—as they main reasons for the increase. Read more on the military and mental health.
Adolescents ages 12-17 in foster care are significantly less likely to talk to a parent or guardian about the dangers of substance use compared to other adolescents, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report found that while 58.9 percent of adolescents living with biological parents have these discussions and 57.6 percent of adolescents living with adoptive parent have the talks, that percentage drops to 51.1 for adolescents in foster care. “Youth in foster care may face special challenges that make it essential that they, like other youth, get effective substance use prevention messaging,” said Frances M. Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “We need to explore innovative approaches to providing this prevention messaging to them—especially in ways that also engage parents and guardians. That’s why we’re very excited about our new national public service campaign, Talk. They Hear You....[which] empowers parents and caregivers to talk to their children as young as nine years old about the dangers of underage drinking.” Read more about substance abuse.
DOT Announces Grants to Improve Transportation that Gets People to Job Training and Other Services
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced about $100 million in competitive grant funds through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new Ladders of Opportunity Initiative. The funds can be used to modernize and expand transit bus service specifically for the purpose of connecting disadvantaged and low-income individuals, veterans, seniors, youths and others with local workforce training, employment centers, health care and other vital services.
Proposals from organizations seeking grants must directly address ladders of opportunity for riders, including:
- Enhancing access to work for individuals lacking ready access to transportation, especially in low-income communities
- Supporting economic opportunities by offering transit access to employment centers, educational and training opportunities, and other basic needs
- Supporting partnerships and coordinated planning among state and local governments and social, human service and transportation providers to improve coordinated planning and delivery of workforce development, training, education and basic services to veterans, seniors, youths and other disadvantaged populations
“Over half of the roughly 10 billion transit trips taken each year in the United States are by bus—and nearly half the buses people depend on are in marginal or poor condition,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan. “This new initiative will help ensure that millions of riders can count on safe, efficient, reliable bus service that connects them with opportunities and services so and services so essential to daily life.” Read more on transportation.
Study Finds Link Between Risk of Breast Cancer and Number of Moles
In the future, physicians may be able to improve early breast cancer screening and treatment with a quick count of the number of moles on a patient’s arm, according to a two new studies in the journal PLOS Medicine. American and French researchers, in two separate studies, found a link between the number of moles on a woman’s arm and their risk of breast cancer—one study found that women with 15 or more moles on a single arm were 35 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than were women with no moles. The scientists said one plausible reason for the link is that these women have higher estrogen levels; estrogen can feed the growth and spread of many breast tumors, and research also connects the hormone to moles. However, researchers also noted that more study was needed to reach a definitive conclusion. "Don't panic,” said Barbara Fuhrman, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, in an editorial accompanying the studies. “This is very interesting biologically, but it probably doesn't tell us a lot about an individual woman's risk of breast cancer. It probably tells us more about the general etiology [causes] of breast cancer." Read more on cancer.
A 2012 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that walking is hands-down the most common exercise activity in the United States—which only makes a new report showing the high rate of pedestrian fatalities and injuries that much more alarming.
The report, Dangerous by Design 2014, released by the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of advocacy group Smart Growth America, finds that more than 47,000 people were killed and close to 700,000 injured while walking in the United States between 2003 and 2012. The report also found that the rates have been rising in the last few years, and that the majority of deaths and injuries could have been prevented with safer street designs such as crosswalks and traffic signs.
The report also ranks major U.S. metropolitan areas according to a Pedestrian Danger Index that assesses how safe pedestrians are while walking. The top four most dangerous cities—Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville and Miami—are all in Florida and the other six are, in order, Memphis, Phoenix, Houston, Birmingham, Atlanta and Charlotte.
“We are allowing an epidemic of pedestrian fatalities, brought on by streets designed for speed and not safety, to take nearly 5,000 lives a year; a number that increased six percent between 2011 and 2012,” said Roger Millar, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. “Not only is that number simply too high, but these deaths are easily prevented through policy, design and practice. State and local transportation leaders need to prioritize the implementation of Complete Streets policies that keep everyone safe.”
Complete Streets refer to “streets for everyone,” according to the Coalition, and are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. People of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across streets in a community, regardless of how they are traveling. Complete Streets also make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops and bicycle to work, while allowing buses to run on time and making it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.
Rates of walking deaths and injuries are far higher for more vulnerable populations such as older adults, children and people of color, according to the report. For example, while just 12.6 percent of the total population is over age 65, that group accounts for nearly 21 percent of pedestrian fatalities nationwide.