Health officials urge Montanans to drive safe Don’t drive impaired, buckle up and don’t text and drive

Department of Public Health and Human Services officials are urging Montanans to take the necessary precautions to stay safe this summer while behind the wheel, especially heading into the Fourth of July weekend. DPHHS Trauma System Manager Alyssa Sexton said the three main factors that contribute to motor vehicle crashes are drugs/drinking, distraction and drowsiness. And, one of the biggest contributors to motor vehicle injuries and death is not wearing a seat belt. Sexton said Montana had 2,246 fatalities from motor vehicle crashes from 2006-2015; 53 percent of those fatalities involved impaired drivers and 66 percent in vehicles were not wearing a seat belt. This year alone in Montana, there has been a sharp increase in traffic fatalities, with 70 traffic fatalities through June 13, compared to 60 at the same time last year. “There are many things we all can control, such as not drinking and driving and choosing to wear a seat belt every time,” she said. “Injuries and death related to motor vehicle crashes in Montana are preventable.” This issue is also costly. Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of traumatic death in Montana, costing $299 million per year in medical expenses and lost productivity. “Not only are these events very tragic, but there is a tremendous financial burden as well,” Sexton added. And, of course, remembering to buckle up is vital. Buckling up and buckling children in an appropriate car/booster seat reduces the risk of injury and death in a crash by 50 percent. Dr. Bradley Pickhardt, MD, FACS, of St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula says raising awareness about this issue is crucial to preventing motor vehicle crashes in the first place. And, continued improvement of Montana’s local, regional and state trauma systems will also help improve the chances of survival for crash victims. “Impaired and distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt are major causes of death and injury,” he said. “We must address these issues in order to drastically reduce the tragedy of death and the burden of injury in our state.” Distracted driving activities include things like using a cell phone, texting and eating while behind the wheel. Using in-vehicle technologies (such as navigation systems) can also be sources of distraction. “While any of these distractions can endanger the driver and others, texting while driving is especially dangerous because it combines all three types of distraction,” Sexton says. Studies show that at 55 mph, the average text takes an individual’s eyes off the road long enough to cover a football field, Sexton said. To keep informed about this and other public health topics, consider subscribing to DPHHS Health in the 406 messages by going to www.healthinthe406.mt.gov Health in the 406: Focus on prevention motor vehicle crashes • Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of traumatic death in Montana, costing $299 million per year in medical expenses and lost productivity. • Buckling up and buckling children in an appropriate car/booster seat reduces the risk of injury and death in a crash by 50 percent.

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