Simple Changes to Prevent Motor Vehicle Injury and Death

Apr 26, 2013, 2:36 PM

Mother and son in car together.

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.

“Every time I hear about someone dying in a car crash,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, “I can’t help but wonder about the circumstances. Did the driver and passengers fail to buckle their seat belts? Did a distraction, like a phone call or text slow the driver’s reaction? Was alcohol involved? Were children properly secured in the right safety seats? Could a simple change have saved a life?”

Some simple changes are saving lives. A NHTSA survey from earlier this month found that more parents are choosing to keep their children in age- and size-appropriate car seats and booster seats longer, instead of transitioning them to seat belts too soon. NHTSA estimates that more than 12,200 children were saved by car seats and seat belts in 2011.

>>View an infographic on the connection between transportation and health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.