“Surviving Our Mistakes Traveling” by Mark Erik Meijer, MD
First published in Aynor Journal, vol. 12, #48 (September 21, 2000) Aynor, South Carolina.
Common things occur commonly. The most common forms of transportation use the highway. Accidents do happen. For some, it’s the “die-way.” That brings us to prevention.
Accidents are eventually unavoidable. Using statistics, we can anticipate the probability of injury and/or accidental death by any means. Insurance companies and the government collect this information. The first step in preventing death is to learn how travelers die.
Most accidents involve traffic violations. It is impossible to totally eliminate this cause (“accidents do happen”). The government can encourage you to drive safely by enforcing speeding laws, campaigning against drunk driving, etc., etc. But people will always, accidentally or deliberately, violate traffic regulations. There is a limit to how much rules and regulations can prevent accidents.
Equipment (e.g., Firestone tires) can also fail, causing more unavoidable accidents.
An alternative to preventing accidents (“preventing death”) is to improve the odds that we survive an accident (seat belts prevent deaths, too). If we can’t save the car, let’s save the passengers inside.
What kills people is not the car hitting an object. It’s the person hitting the car or some other hard object. Powerful forces are involved. The energy involved in suddenly stopping a large moving object and/or at high speeds has to be absorbed somewhere. When and how that energy is absorbed determines what is broken and who is killed.
The government and manufacturers have done a lot to make cars better for people to survive. You know these things as better bumpers, side reinforcements, padded steering wheels, air bags, seat belts, and baby or infant car seats.
The probability is much higher that you will survive an accident if you wear your seat belt, have air bags, use child/infant seats properly, etc., etc.
Statistics (“the odds”) are not perfect in telling what an individual should do to survive. Anyone can describe the freak accident where safety equipment might NOT have been helpful. That’s 20-20 hindsight. But the odds in the future are always the same. For example, you will probably be safer when you wear a seat belt.
Seat belts work fantastically well. They restrain the body’s tendency to fly out of the vehicle head first, preventing head injuries. This prevents the tendency of the car to roll on expelled passengers. Most people with a car on top of them don’t do well.
Most accidents occur within 20 minutes of home. People who say they only wear their seat belts on long trips are ignoring statistics that clearly prove they should be wearing their seat belts all of the time.
The probability of children surviving accidents can be dramatically increased. Preventing death from motor vehicle accidents will never be determined by the child’s ability to drive. Rather, preventing traumatic death is dependent on how well we protect the child.
It borders on manslaughter not to put your child in a car seat or make the child wear a seat belt whenever they are in a vehicle. The same can be said about wearing helmets.
No person should ignore the fact that until age 44, the leading cause of death is accidents. Head injuries are the leading cause of traumatic death. It is estimated by the Academy of Family Practice that there could be a 90% reduction in mortality and morbidity rates in children involved in bike accidents if the rider is wearing a helmet.
Children die after being hit by a car while riding a bike because they’re not wearing a $20 helmet. It is hard to get a child to wear a helmet when their parents won’t. If adults don’t wear helmets (as they should), we cannot expect children to wear helmets. Good parents lead by example. Most parents have a brain worth saving. All adults who want to live should wear a seat belt and/or helmet (“preventing death”).
Doctors can fix broken bones, not broken brains. Irreversible brain damage is just that — irreversible. Fatal brain injuries are also irreversible.
The newspaper reports travel-related tragedies every day. We condemn the drunks who cause fatalities. But for politeness sake, we rarely condemn the victims who didn’t wear life-saving seatbelts. Both enforcing drunk driving laws and wearing seat belts prevent fatalities.
All accidents are terrible. But don’t underestimate how preventable they are in terms of what you can do. Preventing death and injury doesn’t mean you can stop all accidents. Preventing as many accidents as you can is only the first step.
The second step is to increase the probability of surviving an accident. If you can’t be perfect, at least survive your mistakes.©