April 1996 Bulletin

NHTSA asks orthopaedists to tell public about safety

Ricardo Martinez, MD, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) urged orthopaedic surgeons to take the message of the effectiveness of safety belts and motorcycle helmets to their communities.

In an address to fellows at the Annual Meeting and at a press conference, Dr. Martinez reported that the use of safety belts is not growing as fast as in previous years-only 68 percent of American drivers wear safety belts-and the number of motor vehicle deaths has increased for the third consecutive year. Looking ahead, he observed that the highest death rate is among young people and that population is increasing, Dr. Martinez said.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of deaths for people age 5 to 27 and the leading cause of occupational deaths. Forty percent of all deaths for people age 15 to 27 are the result of motor vehicle crashes, he said.

NHTSA has developed a new injury cost data collection system that links data from police crash reports, emergency medical services, hospital emergency departments, hospital discharge files, claims and other sources. The Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES) project compiled the data in seven states-Hawaii, Maine, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wisconsin. The study population for safety belt analyses consisted of 879,670 drivers and for helmet analyses, 10,353 motorcycle riders.

NHTSA has found that the average inpatient charge for unbelted passenger vehicle drivers admitted to a hospital as a result of a crash injury was more than 55 percent higher than the average charge for those who were belted, $13,937 and $9,004, respectively.

The study also showed the average inpatient charge for motorcycle crash victims receiving inpatient care was $14,377 for those who used helmets, and $15,578 for those who did not. Motorcycle helmets were found to be 34 percent effective in preventing a fatality. Hospital data showed motorcycle helmets were 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries.

Dr. Martinez, an emergency physician whose trauma education began with the Academy's "Orange Book," said "we need more help from organizations such as the Academy to go into the community with this message." He observed that orthopaedic surgeons were "leaders in trauma care and driver safety." The Academy developed a brochure on safety belts in 1984 and has continued to promote the use of safety belts.

The Academy and NHTSA joined efforts in developing the Drive It Safe program in 1994.

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