Now that my oldest daughter is behind the wheel, I'm more terrified than ever of drivers who are drinking – or texting, or eating, or checking on their baby in the backseat.
Am I overly concerned? Not so much. In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes and more than 3,000 died in distracted-driving crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Eyes-not-on-the-road drivers also injured 415,000 Americans.
To raise awareness, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers are visiting high schools as part of their "Decide to Drive" campaign. (Car crashes are the top cause of adolescent deaths.) FamilyGoesStrong talks with Wellington Hsu, an orthopedic surgeon at Northwestern University and a Decide to Drive spokesman. Excerpts:
You say 30- to 44-year-olds are the worst offenders because they feel overconfident about their driving abilities. Is that true for midlifers, too?
Absolutely. Baby boomers also have a desire to multitask now more than a decade ago. The campaign is designed to raise awareness so every driver in the car will think twice before doing something that will impair his or her driving. We are all tempted by multitasking – texting, being on the phone, eating, turning and taking care of your kids. Texting seems to be the most common complaint or associated activity.
What types of distracted-driving injuries are most common?
I see patients with spine fractures, but more commonly patients will have lower leg fractures, or they can have fractures around the shoulders. That's from the impact from either an airbag or another car.
What do patients say to you when they come in with fractures from distracted driving?
They have this look of regret and sigh and wish they could turn back time and not make the choice they did. They usually say they were looking down at their phone, and they weren't able to react quickly enough because they were distracted.
So with this campaign, are orthopedic surgeons trying to put themselves out of business?!
A big part of orthopedic surgeons' value to society is not only treatment of injuries but prevention of injuries. We are much more able to raise public awareness of preventive injuries. Some of the injuries are permanent disabilities. I take care of patients every week who are paralyzed or who have irreparable extremity fractures from car accidents. This is a serious, life-changing event for those patients. It's common for the general population not to think it will ever happen to them. It can happen to anyone.
Especially to teens?
Measures need to be taken with teenage kids, not only with substance abuse. Teens in general have an inherently high rate of motor vehicle accidents. Adding texting into the mix really puts them on a slippery slope. Awareness, talking, and education about this will hopefully help.
For more stories about driving safety, read: