Public health never stays in just one place. It stays with you while you're on the move, keeping you safe no matter your mode of transportation. Public health — one could say — is the perfect traveling companion.
In fact, the simple act of using a seat belt may be one of the most recognizable public health victories: From 1981 to 2010, seat belt use rose from 11 percent to about 85 percent, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Nowadays, it just seems strange to see someone not buckle up. But the job's not done. Drivers, passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists still face preventable dangers on the road. Plus, a new national movement is quickly gaining momentum to design our communities with safe walking, biking and physical activity opportunities in mind. Let's move forward together.
Did You Know?
- More than half of drivers and passengers killed in car crashes in 2009 were not wearing restraints.46 In just one year, traffic-related deaths and injuries to drivers and passengers cost $70 billion in medical costs and lost productivity.
- In 2010, more than 4,200 pedestrians died in traffic crashes — a 4 percent increase from 2009.That same year about 70,000 pedestrians were injured in traffic crashes.
- More than 600 bicyclists died in motor vehicle crashes in 2010 and 52,000 were injured.
- More than 15 people are killed every day in the U.S. and more than 1,200 are injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
- Motor vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death among U.S. children.51 However, child safety seats reduce the risk of death by 71 percent for infants and by 54 percent for children ages 1 to 4 years old.
- Up to $11.80 in benefits can be gained for every $1 invested in bicycling and walking opportunities. States with the highest levels of biking and walking also have the lowest levels of costly chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
What Public Health Teaches Us
- Always buckle your seat belt no matter how short the trip and don't be shy about reminding others to do the same.
- That text message can wait! Don't text while driving. Learn more at www.distraction.gov.
- Never drive impaired or let friends or family drive impaired. If you know you'll be drinking alcohol, make plans in advance that don't require you to drive, such as having a designated driver.
- Be an alert pedestrian — always be mindful when using intersections.
- Always wear a helmet when on a motorcycle or bicycle. If you're a driver, be mindful that you're sharing the road with more vulnerable travelers.
- Become familiar with the proper vehicle restraint systems for your child depending on his or her weight, height and age. For example, infants and toddlers through age 2 should be placed in rear-facing child safety seats, while children ages 2 to 4 should be placed in forward-facing child safety seats.
- Get involved with efforts to promote safe biking and walking to school, such as your local Safe Routes to School Program.
- If possible, choose to walk or bike to daily destinations, such as to work or school. Choosing biking or walking over driving is an easy way to integrate routine physical activity into your life.
- Write a letter to the editor to your newspaper or to decision-makers in support of transportation funding decisions that support and encourage all modes of travel, including biking, walking and public transit. Right now, less than 2 percent of federal transportation funds go toward biking and walking.
- Support alcohol screening and brief intervention programs in your community as well as graduated driver’s license laws for new drivers.
- Get involved in local chapters of biking and walking advocacy groups, such as the League of American Bicyclists. Plan events to coincide with national observances, such as National Child Passenger Safety Week in September.
- Organize a community biking or walking group. Consider planning events that connect with other healthy opportunities, such as biking to a local farmers market or holding a community walking audit.
- Educate yourself on how local transportation, infrastructure and land use decisions affect your community's ability to safely choose walking, biking or public transit over driving. Voice your support for decisions that accommodate all modes of travel. Biking and walking make our communities exercise-friendly, improve community cohesion, make our neighborhoods safer and reduce harmful motor vehicle pollution. Inclusive transportation planning is good for public health.
- Support complete streets policies, which ensure that transportation planners design communities with all users — of all ages and abilities — in mind.
- When contacting policymakers, make sure to cite the return on investment of simple preventive measures, such as child safety seats and children's bicycle helmets (see Quick Facts at the beginning of this section).