Eyes on the Road: The Dangers of Distracted Driving

Author: Bridget Gardner, Injury Prevention Coordinator

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Have you ever been on a cell phone and passed your exit? Have you reached for an item in your vehicle or taken your eyes of the road just for a second, only to find yourself swerving to avoid the car ahead?

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When you are in your car, a moment’s distraction can easily have more devastating consequences.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 9% of the fatal crashes in the U.S. were caused by distracted driving and 3,450 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.

Distractions aren’t just cell phones. Distracted driving is any activity that diverts your attention away from the primary task of driving.

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Distractions include adjusting a radio, GPS or MP3 player, texting, talking on a cell phone, updating social media, selecting a song list, talking to passengers, eating, drinking, grooming, like shaving or applying makeup, reading, and diverting your attention to crashes and billboards.

If you remove your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds, at 55 mph, you will drive the length of a football field.  So, you’re basically driving blindfolded for the length of the football field. This not only places you at risk, it places every driver on the road at risk.

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Cell phones are a primary distraction, because it involves three types of distraction simultaneously:

  • Visual (taking your eyes off the road)
  • Manual (taking your hands off the wheel), and
  • Cognitive (taking your mind off driving).

In the fractions of a second in which you need to identify a danger, process the decision, react and respond to the hazard, there isn’t enough time when you do not remain focused or your attention isn’t on driving.

Forty-four states, including Louisiana, ban text messaging for all drivers. Fourteen states prohibit hand-held cell phone use by drivers.

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Currently, Louisiana has a bill to propose the use of hands free devices only for drivers.

University Medical Center, which is home to the region’s only Level I Trauma Center, has a strong commitment to the prevention of injuries due to distracted driving. The Trauma Center’s Injury Prevention Team is committed to decreasing the risk of injury through programs such as Sudden Impact.

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Twice per week, high school sophomores attend the hospital-based program to understand the real consequences to such high-risk behavior. Helping them understand the risks of distracted driving is essential – after all, 76% of participants state that they have been in a crash or near crash because the driver of the vehicle was distracted.

Distracted driving is also written into the script for the Sudden Impact Mock Crash, “Consequences of Impact” and the Mock Trial, “Lifetime of Consequences.”

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We encourage you to not be the next victim.

Reduce cell phone distractions

If there is an option to turn your phone off or send automatic replies to texts while driving, this is highly recommended.

It can wait

Most conversations and texts can wait and if they cannot, pull to a safe, well-lit area to return the call or text.

Safety first

Be a role model to the passengers in your vehicle. If you have a call or text that needs to be returned, have a passenger return the call or text for you.

Eyes on the road

Keep your eyes on the road and always be aware of your surroundings.

Drive defensively

Be ready to avoid a crash by driving defensively.

Remember, crashes are PREVENTABLE.

Know Your Numbers

Authors: Alan Gatz, MD and Kendria Holt-Rogers, MD, UMC Primary Care Physicians

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Today,  many people are aware of the need to focus on the effect of risk factors and life choices on overall health and wellness. Health professionals speak to patients about cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, BMI (body-mass index), and hemoglobin A1c, but many individuals become overwhelmed and do not totally understand all of the information as presented.

Here’s a condensed and simplified description of the above mentioned health determinants.

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Cholesterol

This term actually should be changed to lipids, which includes the entire family of proteins sub-divided into three major subcategories:

  1. LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol
  2. HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and
  3. Triglycerides (TG).

The two numbers the majority of people need to remember are their LDL and HDL levels.

A simple way to understand the concept of reducing heart and vascular disease is to keep the low low and the high high. LDL level above 150 mg% increases the risk of developing blood vessel blockage while HDL above 50 mg% helps protect against the development of this problem.

High triglycerides also can affect a person’s health including development of pancreatic disease.  Any intervention – including lifestyle changes and medications –  that will improve the overall cholesterol readings will also improve the total TG.

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Interventions to improve the cholesterol numbers and reduce risk of cardiac disease:

  • Exercise – 30-45 minutes 3 times per week
  • Diet – increase fiber, reduce fat and sugar
  • Weight loss – even 5 pounds will affect the level
  • Medication – effective but comes with risk of side effects

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Blood sugar (Glucose)

Important in the proper functioning of most all body systems, if the blood level is too high, many of the major organs can be damaged irrevocably, most notably the heart, kidneys, circulatory system and eyes. Normally, people think of getting a blood sugar reading by having their finger lanced to obtain a drop of blood.  This “spot” reading will give an idea of current glucose level but the Hemoglobin A1c (Hgb A1c) is much better at allowing us to determine average blood sugar level over several weeks.

Without getting too scientific, the higher the average blood sugar, the higher the level of Hgb A1c.  In general we strive to get the level below 7%.

Ways to improve Hgb A1c :

  • Take your medications as prescribed
  • Prescribed exercise program
  • Improve diet and control your weight

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Body Mass Index

This number is determined by a patient’s height and weight.

The ideal BMI is between 18.5 and 25.  Below 18.5 is considered underweight with 25-30 being overweight.

Those individuals above 30 are classified obese.  The importance of BMI lies with the effects of stress on the heart, circulatory system, joints, muscles and metabolism.  Severe obesity with BMI greater than 36 increases the individual’s risk for hypertension, myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, diabetes, degenerative arthritis, decreased independence.  Obviously we cannot affect the BMI by growing taller but anything we can do to reduce weight will improve the BMI.

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Blood Pressure

The measurement of blood pressure is important in determining the stress the heart experiences pumping the blood through the thousands (approximately 60K) of miles of blood vessels in the body. Like a body builder the heart, if faced with greater weight (pressure), will grow to meet the challenge.  But, also like the body builder, there can be too much growth (the heart becomes muscle bound) which results in the heart failing to “lift the weight”. The result is heart failure which many times causes permanent disability and death. 

We don’t have the time or space to discuss the effects of blood pressure on the kidneys,  but suffice it to say untreated blood pressure is a leading cause of kidney failure and need for dialysis.

Remember these numbers – Systolic 135, Diastolic 80. 

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If your readings fall above these numbers you should seriously consider speaking with your health care provider about intervention.

Interventions to improve blood pressure:

  • Reduce weight
  • Reduce alcohol intake
  • Reduce salt in the diet
  • Exercise with emphasis on aerobic activity
  • Adequate rest – sleep 6-8 hours/night
  • Stress reduction – yoga, meditation, therapeutic massage

Hopefully, this primer will help you manage your health with greater confidence and purpose.

Dr. Gatz and Dr. Rogers look forward to being your partner in wellness. To schedule an appointment, call the clinic at 504-962-6120. Visit www.umcno.org/primary-care to learn more about UMC’s Primary Care Center and its services.

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