The American Trauma Society (ATS) and the Society of Trauma Nurses recognize the month of May as National Trauma Awareness Month. This year’s slogan is “3D Trauma Prevention,” focusing on 3 major contributors to motor vehicle accidents (MVA): Drugs/Drinking, Distraction, and Drowsiness.
According to the ATS website, there were 32,000 fatalities and 2.3 million injuries from MVAs in 2013 alone. Of those, 31% were linked to an alcohol-impaired driver and another 18% were linked to a distracted driver.
Most of us are aware of the risks of getting behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs. Below are a few statistics from the ATS and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding drinking/drugs and driving:
• Drugs other than alcohol are involved in about 18% of MVA driver deaths, and are often used in combination with alcohol.
• Someone is injured every 2 minutes due to a drunk driving crash.
• On average, 2 of 3 people will be involved in a drunk driving crash in their lifetime.
• In 2009, 18% of fatally injured drivers tested positive for at least one illicit, prescription, or over-the-counter drug.
• Of the 239 child passengers 14 and younger who died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, over half were in a car with an alcohol-impaired driver.
• Of the motorcyclists killed in 2012, 29% had blood alcohol levels greater than 0.08%.
• In a study done in 2013, 9.9 million people admitted to driving under the influence of illicit drugs in the year prior to being surveyed.
• In 2012, 29.1 million people admitted to driving under the influence of alcohol.
• In 2011, 15% of drivers in fatal crashes were drunk compared to 31% on the weekends.
Distracted driving is also a big problem. Actions such as the use of electronic devices (cell phones, GPS, radio, etc.), the driver’s state of mind, conversations with passengers, eating/snacking, reading, taking notes, and applying makeup all contribute to MVAs. Many adults and teenagers are aware of the dangers of using an electronic device while driving, but will also admit to their use while behind the wheel. There is no text or social media post that can’t wait until a time when you aren’t behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
Many drivers are less aware of the effect of their state of mind on their ability to drive safely. Being distracted can involve intense conversations with passengers, being upset or being overly tired. Eating also distracts you. Take a few minutes to pull over and enjoy your meal rather than risk harming yourself or someone else.
Drowsy driving is another problem that drivers face, especially those doing shift work. It is especially dangerous as it slows reaction time, decreases awareness, and impairs judgment just like drugs or alcohol. AAA surveyed police officers and 9 out of 10 drivers they suspected of being drunk turned out to be drowsy instead. Some danger signals include:
• Having trouble keeping your eyes open and focused
• Inability to keep head up
• Daydreaming or wandering, disconnected thoughts
• Frequent yawning or rubbing eyes repeatedly
• Drifting from your lane or tailgating
• Missing signs or driving past your exit
• Drifting off the road/hitting rumble strips
• Inability to remember how far you’ve traveled or what you recently passed
Some suggestions for avoiding driving while drowsy are:
• Don’t drive when you know you are sleepy
• Get enough sleep the night before, especially if going on a long trip. Less than 6 hours of sleep increases risk of falling asleep at the wheel. Don’t plan to work all day and then drive all night as drivers being awake for 20 hours or more have high risk of falling asleep while driving. Travel at times when you are normally awake, rather than driving straight through.
• Travel with a passenger. They can watch for signs of fatigue and take over if necessary.
• Take a power nap. Pull off the road in a safe, well-lit area such as a parking lot or rest area.
• Schedule breaks every 4 hours or 100 miles.
Next time you get behind the wheel, make sure you haven’t been drinking/using drugs, get rid of the distractions, and that you aren’t drowsy.
*Information above adapted from the website and posters presented by the American Trauma Society for National Trauma Awareness Month.
By: Rachel Clark, RN, BSN