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Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of injury related deaths in the U.S.
According to the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, approximately 42,000 people will die on the nation's roads and highways each year.
Another 3.5 million people will suffer nonfatal injuries.
Such crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 34.
Due to the tremendous efforts of many groups over the past 30 years, the number of deaths are declining. These efforts include advances in the design of vehicles and roads, laws requiring and regulating the use of life-saving devices such as safety belts, and changes in societal attitudes toward destructive behaviors such as drinking and driving.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a major risk factor for motor vehicle accidents. Prevention programs have significantly helped reduce the number of alcohol related deaths. From 1987 to 1997, alcohol related motor vehicle fatality rates fell 39%. This reduction is due in part to increased public awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, as well as to tougher laws.
Adults age 65 and older have more fatal crashes than drivers in all other age groups except teens.
Of all age groups, they are the most likely to wear seat belts and least likely to drink and drive or ride with a drunk driver.
To allow for aging, many older adults will adjust their driving habits. Some will stop driving at night due to vision problems, some will stop driving on the freeway or driving during rush hour, and some will stop driving all together.
Other issues that may affect this age group are chronic medical conditions and certain prescription drugs.
In the last 10 years, the number of older drivers has increased by 50%.
As the population ages this number will continue to rise, which in turn will most likely cause the number of traffic deaths to rise.
From 1987 to 1997, the number of traffic deaths occurring among people over the age of 70 increased 22%.
In 1997, almost 6,000 people age 70 or older died of injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents.
In 1997, 383,000 children under the age of 16 were injured in traffic accidents in the U.S.; more than 3000 were killed. Of these deaths, 70% occurred among children who were passengers in a vehicle.
Death rates for child passengers fell 11% between 1975 and 1996. However, this reduction could be even greater, as 63% of children up to the age of 14 who were killed in accidents during 1997 were not restrained.
Although laws vary, all states now have child restraint laws.
Each year, approximately 80,000 to 90,000 individuals incur a traumatic brain injury (TBI) resulting in long-term, substantial loss of functioning, 64 percent of which are related to automobile accidents. In over half of these, the driver was under the influence of alcohol.
Each year, nearly 11,000 individuals sustain a traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI), also resulting in substantial loss of functioning and permanent disabilities.
More than 190,000 persons in the U.S. live with paralysis caused by SCI. The most common cause of SCI is motor vehicle crashes, accounting for at least 35 percent of these injuries. The length of stay in acute care is generally longer due to other medical problems, often for a total of 3-3.5 months.
The consequences of both TBI and SCI include a dramatic change in the individuals' life course, profound disruption of the family, enormous loss of income or earning potential and large expenses over a lifetime.
When considering costs, there are financial costs and the cost of life. With every death that results from a TBI, on the average, there are 38 years of living lost. The economic consequences of TBI are enormous.
The annual cost of acute care and rehabilitation in the United States for new cases of TBI is estimated at up to $10 billion dollars. Estimates for average lifetime cost of care for a person with severe TBI range from $600,000 to $1,875,000.
These figures may grossly underestimate the economic burden of TBI to family and society because they do not include lost earnings, costs to social services systems and the value of the time and foregone earnings of family members who care for persons with TBI.
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