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Safety in the Car

close up of toy car accident

At University Hospital’s Frank L. Mitchell Jr., MD, Trauma Center, we know one of the easiest ways to keep you and your family safe is to prevent unintentional injuries - especially while in the car. That’s why for Trauma Awareness Month 2017 we want to focus on keeping YOU safe in your vehicle.

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death in the United States. Whether taking your kids to and from school, running errands, or visiting family, much of your time is spent in a car. Taking precautions to stay safe while in a vehicle to prevent unintentional injuries is essential.


Someone buckling seatbelt

Wearing a seat belt is critical to your overall safety while in a vehicle. From January through mid-March 2017, 137 Missourians have been killed in motor vehicle crash -  58 percent of them were not wearing a seatbelt. Seat belts save almost 13,000 lives a year.

Buckling up is the most important safety measure you can take to protect yourself in a crash as it helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle.  Seat belts are also the best defense against impaired, aggressive, and distracted drivers. Research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used properly, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. In light trucks, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent.


Older man driving

While older drivers may be some of the safest drivers on the road, fatal crash rates increase starting at age 75 and jump at age 80. This could be due to higher risk of medical impairments in the elderly, including vision, memory and psychomotor skills. Additionally, older adults are at a higher risk of injury in a crash and a decreased ability to recover from injury.

However, when older adults stop driving, there are often negative outcomes, including decreased activities outside home, productivity and social engagement.

Warning Signs

Knowing when it is no longer safe to drive is difficult. These warning signs may indicate that it is time to stop driving:

  • Others (children, spouse, friends, siblings, etc.) suggest that it might be time to limit or stop driving. This warning sign is especially relevant if the suggestions come from multiple people.

  • You notice dents or scratches on the car, garage or mailbox that you don’t remember.

Older adults sometimes self-regulate their driving, such as they stop driving at night or they do not drive on busy highways.


The transition from driving to not driving is scary and uncomfortable for all involved. Here are some tips to ease this process.

One way to offset the negative consequences associated with driving retirement is to plan for life after driving.

  • While you are still able to drive, consider when you will need to stop.

  • What trips will be most important to you and how will you still make them?

  • Test out your alternatives to see if they will work for you.

  • Try to see a positive reason to give up the keys, such as saving money, spending more time with loved ones who carpool and feeling safer.

  • Talk with family and friends about your plans and knowing when it is time.

  • Learn more at

Talk to your doctor about how your medical conditions and prescriptions will affect your driving in both the short-term and long-term.

Do not always be the passenger when you go places with children or friends. Having others ride while you drive can be a good way for you and your loved ones to check on your skills. If you are safe and confident driving yourself, you should be the same driving with others.


person texting while driving

Eating, putting on makeup and texting while driving are examples of distracted driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that driver distraction was the cause of 18 percent of all fatal crashes in 2012, with 3,328 people killed.

Because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention, the NHTSA considers texting the most alarming form of distracted driving. Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. Reaching for a phone, dialing, texting and other uses of mobile devices can increase your risk of getting in a crash by three times.

Tips to prevent distracted driving

  • Put your phone out of reach, such as in the glove box, back seat or trunk.

  • Pull over and park safely if you need to use your phone to talk or text.

  • Make a pledge to your family to never text or talk on the phone while driving.

  • As a passenger, speak up if the driver starts texting or talking on his phone.

As a parent, give teen drivers simple, clear instructions not to use their wireless devices while driving. Before new drivers get their licenses, discuss how taking their eyes off the road, even for a few seconds, could cause injury or death. Create a parent-and-teen driving contract with rules and consequences for breaking the rules.

Sources: Governors Highway Safety Association,, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, AAA, the Ad Council and the U.S. Department of Transportation,,, DUI and DWI Foundation,, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence,


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