Category Archives: Transportation
It has been a busy month for the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Car safety innovations released by the organization in just the last few weeks include:
- A free app to help consumers find the safest cars when buying or renting, as well as nearby sites for car seat installation services and checks.
- New guidelines for auto-makers to help reduce the use of electronic devices while driving, and with that reduce the number of people killed and injured by distracted driving every day. A recent NHTSA survey found that 600,000 drivers talk on their cell phones or use electronic devices at any given daylight moment. More than 3,300 people were killed in 2011 and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to NHTSA data.
- A reminder that during the spring and summer highway construction kicks into high gear and drivers need to pay attention to road changes and warnings. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 587 people died in highway work-zone fatalities—an increase of 11 fatalities over 2010.
There’s good reason for NHTSA’s steady supply of information and action. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has designated the high motor vehicle injury rate as a winnable battle, shows that in the United States, motor vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death for people age 5 through 34.
The Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Research Council, is holding its annual meeting this week including a critical session later today that will bring together several subcommittees to talk about the intersection of transportation and health.
>>Read our coverage from last year’s Transportation Research Board meeting.
Ed Christopher, who is with the Federal Highway Administration Resource Center Planning Team and co-chair of the health subcommittee, says that over the last ten years people in the transportation sector have become more aware of the connections between health and transportation including physical activity, safety, air quality, equity, and access, but that collaboration is still in its early stages. “Health and transportation professionals often come from different scientific backgrounds and have separate institutional structures,” says Christopher. Today’s session bring together the health subcommittee along with several others including committees on policy, legal resources, safety and public transportation.
Christopher says the session will help “demystify” the connections between health and transportation, and identify promising opportunities for research and collaboration.
The keynote speaker at today’s session is Andrew Dannenberg, MD, MPH, an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and the Department of Urban Design and Planning in the College of Built Environments.
Dr. Dannenberg is also a consultant to and former team lead of the Healthy Community Design Initiative at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, where he works on activities related to the health aspects of community design including land use, transportation, urban planning, and the built environment. In advance of today’s meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Dannenberg about synergies between transportation and health.
NewPublicHealth: What is the intersection of health and transportation and why does it matter?
NewPublicHealth continues a series of conversations with local public health directors on the issues that impact their work and the health of their communities. Recently, we spoke with David Fleming, MD, MPH, public health director of Seattle and King County in Washington State. Dr. Fleming talked with us about how transportation innovation can impact the health and prosperity of a community.
>>Check out an INFOGRAPHIC on the connection between transportation and health.
>>Hear from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on how transportation impacts public health.
NewPublicHealth: How is transportation innovation making a difference in the health of communities in Seattle/King County?
Dr. Fleming: We’ve started with transit-oriented development such as increasing bike and walking paths, which provides opportunities for physical exercise for many folks that want to do it, but haven’t been able to. It draws a larger number of people into activities and helps them exercise routinely. And in addition to increasing physical activity, you’re also increasing safety, reducing injuries, increasing the social capital in the community, getting better connections between community residents and from an economic development standpoint, you’re creating jobs and increasing property values, and therefore, improving one of the underlying social determinants of health.
NPH: What other examples of transit-oriented housing and community development can you tell us about in Seattle/ King County and what have you learned from them?
The NewPublicHealth National Prevention Strategy series is under way, including interviews with Cabinet Secretaries and their National Prevention Council designees, exploring the impact of transportation, education and more on health. “Better Transportation Options = Healthier Lives” tells a visual story on the role of transportation in the health of our communities.
- Public transit users walk an average of 19 minutes getting to and from public transportation.
- Countries with lower rates of obesity tend to have higher rates of commuters who walk or bike to work.
- The risk of obesity increases 6 percent with every additional mile spent in the car, and decreases 5 percent with every kilometer walked.
- Lengthy commutes cost $100 billion each year in excess fuel costs and lost productivity.
- More than 30,000 people died in car wrecks in 2010.
- Strong seatbelt and child safety laws resulted in a 25 percent decrease in car accident deaths since 2005.
Also check out our previous infographic exploring the connection between education and health.
>>For more on transportation and health:
A new conversation with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood continues a series of interviews by NewPublicHealth with the heads of federal agencies that comprise the National Prevention Council, convened to partner across government to help create a healthier nation through the National Prevention Strategy.
The U.S. transportation system is a web of highways, bridges, roads, sidewalks, bike paths, trains, and buses that connect people to each other and to places where they work, learn, play, shop, and get medical care. This makes transportation a critical factor in the health and quality—as well as the economic viability—of life of communities. In addition to devoting significant resources and attention to improving the safety of motor vehicle-based transportation, the Department of Transportation and partners across the country are working to provide more transportation options that support walking and cycling and improve health.
>>Check out a new infographic exploring the connection between transportation and health.
Read the new interview with Secretary LaHood.
NPH: Who are some of the Department of Transportation’s partners on the intersection of transportation and health?
Secretary Ray LaHood: We’ve worked with communities all over America on their priorities for improving transportation, but also improving the quality of life in communities. We’ve worked with mayors, we’ve worked with transportation officials, and we’ve worked with advocacy groups. We’ve tried to take best practices in cities that have paid attention to the environment and quality of life in their communities, and lead by not only our own example, but by taking examples from leadership in communities where mayors and transportation advocates and some of our best partners have done extraordinary work on really improving health and quality of life by way of transportation.
We work closely with many different groups, not only here in Washington, but all across the country. For example, we have joined with other agencies for a project called Safe Routes to School that helps create environments where students can walk and bicycle to school safely by allowing children to pick routes to school that are safe for walking – so that their parents don’t have to drive them and so they don’t have to be on a bus. We have a great relationship with bikers all over America, and whenever I go into a community I often have opportunities to meet with the cycling advocates in communities.
We also work closely with advocates to make sure that children are in the right size child safety seats, and we partner with Mothers against Drunk Driving to get drunk drivers off the road. We have lots of advocacy groups and friends around the country who wake up every day and think about safety on the roadways, in vehicles, outside of vehicles, in public transportation.
NPH: How is the DOT working to help prevent injuries related to transportation, such as distracted driving?
The American Public Health Association and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership have joined together to create an active transportation primer, Promoting Active Transportation: An Opportunity for Public Health.
The goal of the primer is to provide public health practitioners with critical background information on the value of active transportation, such as walking, bike riding, jogging and running to help reduce obesity, transportation expenses and the environmental impact of cars and buses in communities. The primer authors say educating public health leaders about active transportation can affect how transportation is built in communities, regions and states, and engage stakeholders to find effective calls for action.
New federal transportation legislation became effective this month and includes opportunities for public health practitioners to take active roles in moving active transportation forward in their communities including:
- Safe bicycling routes
- Improved sidewalks
- Multi-use pathways
>>Bonus Links: Check out a Q&A with Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Also read a NewPublicHealth interview with Michelle Windmoeller, assistant director of the PedNet Coalition, which promotes active transportation in communities.
The National Prevention Strategy is a national effort engaging 17 federal agencies to develop cross-sector strategies to reduce preventable illness and disease and improve Americans’ health. The goals and actions of the Strategy were in full force last week at a roundtable on the intersection of health and transportation, convened by the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was also communicated nationwide in a blog post by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
From Secretary LaHood’s post:
We know that the transportation choices we make play an important role in building and maintaining healthy communities. For example, safer roadways and traffic patterns reduce crashes. Streets where walkers and bikers are protected from motor vehicles encourage people to get more exercise as part of their daily routines. Increasing the transportation options available in a community helps reduce congestion and air pollution even as it ensures that communities have access to necessary services like full-service grocery stores and doctors’ offices.
Faces of Public Health is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth featuring individuals working on the front lines of public health and helping keep people healthy and safe.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 1.3 million people are killed and 20 to 50 million are injured in car crashes around the world. Most of the crashes happen in low- or middle-income countries, and 25,000 of the deaths are among tourists. In fact, nearly half of medical evacuations back to the United States, which can cost $100,000 or more, are the result of a car crash.
According to the CDC, reasons for an increase in crashes in foreign countries include:
- More people driving cars and other motorized vehicles
- Poorly maintained roads
- Insufficient traffic laws and poor enforcement in some countries
- Insufficient emergency response capabilities in some countries
Rochelle Sobel knows the worst possible outcome of these crashes first hand. She founded the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) in 1995, after her son, Aron, was killed in a bus crash in Turkey along with 22 other passengers from many countries, just two weeks before his graduation from the University of Maryland Medical School. The bus Aron was traveling on was speeding down the wrong lane of a narrow, poorly maintained road with no guard rail. The bus hit oncoming traffic and plunged down an embankment, landing on its side. Emergency medical crews were slow to respond, likely a factor in at least some of the deaths. After the crash the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey recommended the creation of a road safety organization to protect both American citizens abroad and residents of countries around the world.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Rochelle Sobel about ASIRT.
NewPublicHealth: ASIRT was started out of personal tragedy, the loss of your son Aron, in a bus crash in Turkey. How did you get started?
Rochelle Sobel: The first thing I did was talk to the U.S. embassy in Ankara, and I asked them if they could please tell me when such crashes occur again, and they said, “Mrs. Sobel, we’d be calling you constantly.” That led me to understand that this is indeed a health issue that was not getting the kind of public attention that it deserved. So I started to call different organizations, and unfortunately, it was not yet recognized as a health issue. So we decided to become the organization that would bring attention to the issue. We got help from the embassy; we got a lot of help from the State Department. We asked the State Department to start collecting data on the numbers of Americans who die abroad in road crashes by country, and they discovered that it was the single greatest cause of death for healthy Americans traveling abroad.
NPH: Is that still the case?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched a new website, Parents Central, that will, quite frankly, help save children’s lives. The site offers frequently updated safety information for kids in cars—from the newborn firstborn to the teen homecoming queen—as well as safety guidance for travel of all kinds including bicycling, walking and riding the bus to school.
Last month’s Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a critical evidence base for parents, and health care professionals, to book mark and follow Parents Central. The April report showed that child injury death rates dropped nearly 30 percent from 2000 to 2009, with a significant part of that decline coming from a 41 percent drop in motor vehicle crash deaths in children over the past decade. Safety measures that have reduced deaths in car crashes include use of child safety seats and booster seats, and more widespread adoption and the strengthening of graduated driver's licensing systems for teenagers.
While you’re on the Parents Central site, NHTSA resources well worth the look include guidance on choosing and installing car seats, the agency’s new campaign to prevent child heatstroke deaths in cars, and tips for staying safe when transporting kids in multi-passenger vans—especially as summer camps and trips start up.
Bonus Reading: Read about Operation Hang Up, an initiative in New York State this past weekend that had police officers aggressively ticketing drivers on their cell phones.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Center for Construction Research and Training have launched a construction fall prevention campaign to reduce both fatal and non-fatal falls among workers at construction sites. Falls are the leading cause of work-related injury and deaths in construction.
In 2010 more than 10,000 construction workers were injured in falls, and another 255 workers were killed, with Latino workers the most likely to die as a result of a work-related fall.
News often focuses on high school drivers who use their cell phones while driving, but a new study of 5,000 California college students by the University of California/San Diego's Trauma Epidemiology and Injury Prevention Research Center finds many older students are also distracted by their phones while driving. Among the findings:
- 78 percent reported driving while using a cell phone (talking or texting)
- 50 percent said they send texts while driving on freeway
- 60 percent said they send texts while in stop and go traffic or in city streets
- 87 percent send texts while at traffic lights
- Only 12 percent said they never text, not even at a traffic light
“Distracted Driving is a highly prevalent behavior in college students who have misplaced confidence in their own driving skills and their ability to multitask,” said Linda Hill, MD, MPH, clinical professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and a lead author of the study. “Despite the known dangers, distracted driving has become an accepted behavior,” said Hill.
A new report by SafeKids, an international safety organization, finds that one in three U.S. children who play team sports suffers an injury severe enough to require medical treatment. The report also found that half of the injuries were preventable; parents often pressure coaches to put their injured kids back in the game; and coaches would like more training in injury prevention.