Living in the Central Valley for nearly six years and traveling the rural roads between Modesto and the West Side, I have always paid special attention to the crosses and memorials that adorn the roadways. These solemn markers seems to multiply with a tragic and frightening frequency and serve to remind us of our frailty and the suddenness with which our worlds can be changed forever.
With the summer months finally here and the recent appearance in our clinic of patients from several car accidents, it seemed like the right time to talk again about familiar topics of safety.
There are many components that influence the outcome of a motor vehicle accident, but there are three we can directly influence. Studies have shown that most crashes are the result of human error, caused by speed, proximity to other cars and distraction. In other words — we drive too fast, too close to each other, and are too distracted.
Excessive speeds require more time and more energy for braking to bring a vehicle to a safe stop. This both decreases the amount of time we have to react safely to a sudden event and increases the difficulty of controlling a rapidly slowing vehicle.
Likewise, traveling too close behind another car decreases the time we have to react to sudden events and vastly increases the likelihood of an accident. (When you add rain-soaked roads and that infamous West Side winter fog to those scenarios, you have a recipe for disaster and tragedy.)
However, the most insidious bad driving habit has to be the cell phone.
Truly, the cell phone has become a case study for the tail wagging the dog. We have become slaves to the pleasures and conveniences of this little device. Unfortunately, our bondage has included the nasty and at times deadly habit of converting driving attention into cell phone and texting attention. No phone call or text message, no matter how enticing, frees us from the duty to operate our vehicles safely.
With hands-free device use becoming law July 1, there is no better time to make some prudent adjustments.
The final major component of this discussion is the use of seat belts.
Nearly everyone has heard enough “wear your seat belt” admonitions to last a lifetime. Oddly enough, there are still those who choose not to wear them.
To put it in blunt terms, seat belts are designed to prevent an occupant from hitting the inside of the vehicle (like the steering wheel or dashboard) and from being ejected from the vehicle all together.
Statistically, unbelted drivers and passengers have vastly greater chances of serious injury and death, and an ejected victim has more than triple the chance of death.
The wise thing to do, then, is strap on the seat belt, no matter how short the trip.
- R.D. O’Bryan is a nationally board certified and licensed physician assistant and a licensed paramedic who practices at the Patterson First Care clinic. You can e-mail him questions and suggestions at AskHealthMatters@yahoo.com.