Category Archives: Transportation
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.
How safely Americans drive across the generations, and how they can improve on that, is the focus of a new documentary, “Life Behind the Wheel,” airing at 8am Saturday, March 3 on the Discovery Channel and Discovery Education. Program experts include Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The program looks at lurking dangers, such as texting while driving and improperly installed car seats as well as community partnerships to improve car safety including car seat installation programs and new technology to help parents track their teens driving habits.
Some statistics offered by Discovery explain the critical value of the program:
- 70 percent of all child car seats in the U.S. are improperly installed
- Vehicle crashes are the single greatest cause of death for teenagers
- A driver is between 8 and 23 times more likely to crash if texting while driving
- Fatality rates per mile driven for 75 to 79 year olds are more than four times as high as those for 30-59 year olds.
The Department of Transportation has announced the first-ever federally proposed guidelines to encourage automobile manufacturers to limit the distraction risk of in-vehicle electronic devices. The proposed voluntary guidelines would apply to communications, entertainment, information-gathering and navigation devices or any other functions that are not required to safely operate the vehicle. The guidelines were released on the same day that the Governors Highway Safety Association released a study that found that deaths among 16 and 17 year old drivers in cars increased by 11 percent in the first 6 months of 2011, the first increase in eight years.
The guidelines were issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and would establish specific recommended criteria for electronic devices installed in vehicles at the time they are manufactured that require visual or manual operation by drivers.
According to NHTSA, these guidelines are the first in a series that they plan to issue to address distractions in a car, including devices that require use of the hands or diversion of the eyes while driving.
The first set of guidelines includes:
- Limit device operation to one hand only (leaving the other hand to remain on the steering wheel to control the vehicle)
- Limit individual off-road glances required for device operation to no more than two seconds
- Limit unnecessary visual information in the driver’s field of view
- Limit the amount of manual inputs required for device operation
The Phase I guidelines were published in yesterday’s Federal Register and comments will be accepted for the next 60 days. Final guidelines will be issued after NHTSA reviews the responses.
Yesterday’s “Intersection of Transportation and Health” workshop, a day for the health-o-philes at the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting, underscored the concept that transportation plays a critical role in determining health outcomes. Brian Raymond, MPH, Senior Policy Consultant, Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy, outlined several important ways transportation affects health:
- injuries and accidents from motor vehicle crashes;
- poor air quality its effects on asthma and a myriad of other health conditions;
- impact on physical activity, for better or worse (depending on whether automobiles or public transit are the focus); and
- “access to the necessities of life,” providing a way to get to jobs and economic opportunities, to access health care options and to readily and regularly access fresh, health foods.
Air pollution and motor vehicle crashes get a lot of attention, and thus have a lot of research behind them, said Andrew Dannenberg, MD, MPH, Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington and consultant on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Healthy Community Design Initiative, who presented on research priorities for transportation and health. Though more research is needed on access and physical activity, some interesting trends are beginning to emerge. Some of the statistics revealed at the workshop include:
- Three trillion vehicle miles are traveled in the U.S. each year, according to the Federal Highway Research Administration.
- Between 1990 and 2009 the vehicle miles traveled for passenger cars and trucks has increased by 39 percent, said David Ragland, PhD, MPH, Director of the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at the University of California at Berkeley.
- Every additional hour spent in a car is associated with a 6% increase in the risk of obesity, and every kilometer walked is associated with a 5% decrease in obesity risk, said Raymond.
- Thirty-six percent of adults don’t report any leisure time physical activity; 88% don’t meet federal guidelines for the recommended amount of activity.
- The estimated medical costs of inactivity top $75 billion per year.
- Walking and biking are the top leisure physical activities of choice in the U.S., and are also the top utilitarian physical activities.
- Public transit users walk a median of 19 minutes daily getting to and from transit stops. Nearly 30 percent of transit users exceed the 30 minutes of recommended physical activity per day.
Some resources shared at the workshop included:
- CDC’s Designing and Building Healthy Places (check out their Healthy Community Design Checklist and Health Impact Assessment page).
- Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the PEW Charitable Trusts.
- Safe Transportation Research and Education Center at UC Berkeley’s "Transportation and Health: Policy Interventions for Safer, Healthier People and Communities” report.
- The Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America, a report from PolicyLink, the Prevention Institute and the Convergence Partnership.
- Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an interagency partnersip between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection Agency.
>>Follow continued coverage of the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting from NewPublicHealth.org here.