In 2020, emergency department doors throughout the U.S. opened more than 2.1 million times for injuries related to motor vehicle crashes. While that number is stunning, it is lower than average since it occurred during a year that included extended lockdowns and restrictions on travel.
Here at home, Carilion Clinic’s Emergency Department saw 700 patients for traumatic injuries following motor vehicle crashes in 2021.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers motor vehicle crashes a public health concern: they are a leading cause of death, and they are preventable.
Ottilia Lewis, Carilion Clinic’s trauma outreach coordinator, is focused on that last word: preventable.
“Preventing motor vehicle crashes and the trauma they cause takes just three steps,” she said. “Wear the proper restraint, avoid driving under the influence and keep your focus on the road.”
In theory, we all think we follow those three steps. In practice, they can raise questions, such as how to use your phone to navigate without being distracted and which restraint is proper for different ages and sizes.
Ottilia answers those questions and more below. Read on to relearn how to protect yourself and others—drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians—when you are on the road.
1. Wear Your Seatbelt
Always wear a seatbelt, wear it properly, and be sure your passengers do the same—every passenger, every trip. Here’s how:
- Sit upright with your back against the seat and your feet on the floor
- Pull the shoulder harness snugly across your shoulder and chest
- Fasten the belt
- Adjust the lap belt so it is snug and lies low across your hips
Buckle children securely in car seats or booster seats that are appropriate for their age, height and weight. Safe Kids Southwest Virginia is a good resource for that information and more. In addition, Carilion Clinic offers free car seat safety checks each month in Roanoke and Christiansburg.
Find more about seat belts from the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (pdf).
2. Drive Sober
Do not drive under the influence of alcohol or other substances that can cause you to be impaired or affect your ability to react appropriately. This includes marijuana.
The legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) throughout the U.S. is a level of 0.08%. That is equivalent to one drink over the course of a full hour. So if you plan to enjoy a beer with your friends after a hike, just plan to enjoy each other’s company for an hour before driving home, too.
Although it's currently legal to possess small amounts of marijuana in Virginia, it is a crime to operate a vehicle under the influence of marijuana to a degree that impairs your ability to drive or operate the motor vehicle safely. It is important to note that marijuana remains illegal at the federal level.
These guidelines apply not only to cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles, but also to mopeds, motorized scooters, e-bikes and all-terrain vehicles like four-wheelers. And for those who enjoy boating in the summertime, they apply to boats too.
3. Stay Focused
The next time you’re riding in a vehicle as a passenger, look at the drivers around you. Chances are, you’ll see many of them glancing at their phones, or even scrolling, as they drive! Remember that when you’re the one behind the wheel, and keep your eyes—and your focus—on the road.
And remember, Virginia’s hands-free law prohibits the use of phones and other devices while your car is in motion. Two tips can help you obey that law"
- Be sure your phone’s DND (do not disturb) feature is switched on. This will automatically mute incoming calls and texts while you are driving; some phones may also send auto-replies to the sender. If your phone doesn’t have DND, you can download free apps that perform the same function.
- Set your phone’s navigation system to your destination before you begin driving.
Your cell phone isn’t the only potential distraction. Fiddling with your car’s stereo, interacting with your passengers, “rubbernecking” at crash or construction sites and going on “auto-pilot” on trips you take regularly can all pull your attention away from the road.
Trauma Survivors Network
Ottilia also coordinates Carilion Clinic’s chapter of the Trauma Survivors Network (TSN), which addresses all kinds of trauma from a variety of causes, including motor vehicle crashes.
TSN offers multiple resources for patients and families, including a guide to what to expect during trauma care, stories from both adults and children and their families who have experienced trauma, a community forum and information from featured experts.
TSN also recommends these sites for more information on the topic:
- CDC Injury Center
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
- National Highway and Traffic Safety Association
National Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- U.S. Department of Transportation