Each year more than five million motor vehicle accidents (MVAs) are reported to law-enforcement officials, and over 100 billion dollars are spent to take care of damages caused by MVAS. According to the National Center for Statistics and Analysis, MVAS are the leading cause of death for those aged 3 to 33 and the eighth-leading cause of death overall. Because of the disproportionate number of young people affected, only cancer and heart disease consume more years of life expectancy. Additionally, about 2.5 million accidents each year involve significant injuries, and 10 percent of accidents lead to long-term disability.
According to the National Safety Council, alcohol intoxication is the leading cause of MVAS, followed by speeding. Studies by the National Highway Traffic Safe ty Administration have shown that even a single drink increases the risk for injury by affecting reaction time, coordination and ability to divide attention. At a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05, far below the legal limit for intoxication in most states, drivers in single-vehicle crashes have a risk of death that is 11 times higher than if they had not been drinking. At a BAC of 0.10 the risk of death in a crash is almost 50 times higher, and at a BAC of 0.15 it is 380 times higher.
Because substance abuse is not often addressed in the emergency room settings where injuries are treated, those injured while intoxicated remain at greater risk of future accidents. In one recent study of trauma patients, people intoxicated at the time of an initial injury were 2.5 times more likely to have a second injury during the 18-month follow-up period; those with chronic alcohol use were 3.5 times more likely. An injury creates a teachable moment when health care professionals, friends and relatives can intervene and facilitate sub stance abuse treatment before further consequences occur.
The failure to use seat belts and motorcycle helmets also contributes to more severe injuries in MVAS. Declines in MVA death rates over the past half-century have paralleled increases in the use of seat belts and helmets. A recent University of Washington study examining the economic consequences of MVAs in the U.S. found that people who were not wearing seatbelts lost an average of 90 days of work after a crash, compared with 10 days for those wearing seatbelts.
Researchers are also looking more closely at MVAs as a cause of traumatic stress. Studies indicate that accidents are the most common traumatic event reported by men and the second most common traumatic event reported by women. While most people surviving serious MVAS do not develop mental health problems severe enough to require professional treatment, studies have shown that about 10 percent of MVA survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD can manifest with symptoms such as disturbing memories, nightmares, insomnia, hyper arousal, a sense of doom or foreshortened future, numbing. detachment, loss of previous interests, fear of driving, and avoidance of situations reminiscent of the accident. However, because of the myriad of injuries involved in accidents, psychological symptoms may be overlooked at follow up medical visits. Unfortunately, for those MVA survivors who have untreated PTSD, more than half continue to have significant symptoms for months to years. Treatment often includes a combination of medication with cognitive and behavioral therapies. ABILITY
For more information about MVA prevention efforts, consult the following websites:
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety