December 7, 2004
Methodist Rehabilitation Center offers safe tips for traveling this holiday season
By Jim Albritton
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Methodist Rehabilitation Center warns travelers to slow down, buckle up and plan ahead this holiday season to help prevent the leading cause of accidental death in the United States—motor vehicle crashes.
“Every year, we see an increase in the number of traffic-related fatalities and crippling injuries due to vehicle accidents,” said Dr. Rahul Vohra, medical director at Methodist Rehabilitation Center. “The first thing people can do to protect themselves is to be patient and always wear a seat belt.”
Wearing a seatbelt properly can reduce the risk of serious injury by as much as 50 percent, added Dr. Vohra.
Lisa Gates, coordinator for Think First, Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s statewide safety program, says to make sure children ride in an age-appropriate child safety seat and to have it checked by a certified car seat technician.
“Over 80 percent of children are incorrectly restrained when riding in a motor vehicle,” said Gates. “Studies show that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 2 to 14.”
Gates recommends that children age 12 and under always ride in the back seat in one of the following types of seats:
- Infant Seats. Infant seats are designed for babies from birth until at least age 1 or 20 pounds. Infants should ride in rear facing safety seats with harness straps at or below shoulder level until they are at the appropriate size and age to move to convertible safety seats.
- Convertible Safety Seats. These seats convert from rear-facing for infants to forward-facing for toddlers weighing at least 20 pounds. Children should remain in a forward-facing seat from 20 pounds until they reach approximately 40 pounds and 4 years of age.
- Booster Seats. These seats are used as a transition to safety belts for children 4 to 8 years old. Booster seats must be used with a lap and shoulder belt.
- Safety Belts. When a child is over 8 years old and 4 foot 9 inches, they can be moved to an adult safety belt. To secure a safety belt properly, the lap belt should fit snugly and properly across the upper thighs and the shoulder strap should cross over the shoulder and across the chest. All children should ride in the back seat until age 12.
Gates says there are other safety concerns to consider when traveling at Christmas.
“A car is not the place to make up for lost time,” warns Gates. “Cell phone calls, applying make-up or writing down appointments are huge distractions that interfere with safe driving.”
Gates encourages travelers to be mindful of heavy traffic, colder weather and shorter days that can make driving more dangerous than during other months.
Dr. Vohra and Gates suggests the following for a safe, happy holiday season:
- Never drink alcoholic beverages and drive.
- Install cargo barriers in SUVs, minivans or wagons with an exposed luggage area. Many people have been injured from flying luggage or other objects in the car during a collision.
- Always wear safety belts.
- Be sure to use appropriate car seats and seat belts for children when traveling. If you are traveling in someone else's car, arrange ahead of time to borrow or rent the appropriate car seat for your child.
- Never take children out of their car seat while moving. You never know when crashes will happen and a child is safest in a car seat.
- Be extra patient when traveling during the holidays.
- Travel with a cell phone in case of emergencies, but never talk on a cell phone while driving.
- Expect increased traffic on the road and allow more time to reach your destination.
- Never allow luggage or other items to block the rear window.
- Start every trip fully rested and remember to take additional rest every two to three hours.
“Defensive and sober driving should be everyone’s goal this season,” said Gates. “We want holiday celebrations to be fun and exciting, but most importantly safe.”