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Safety First, Yet the Facts Hurt: How Injury Prevention Can Save Lives

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We can save hundreds of thousands of lives by enacting, enforcing and supporting injury prevention policies and activities. A recent report released by Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) found that many injury prevention activities have been scientifically shown to reduce harm and deaths, for instance:

  • Seat belts saved an estimated 69,000 lives from 2006 to 2010;
  • Motorcycle helmets saved an estimated 8,000 lives from 2005 to 2009;
  • Child safety seats saved around 1,800 lives from 2005 to 2009;
  • The number of children and teens killed in motor vehicle crashes dropped 41 percent from 2000 to 2009; and
  • School-based programs to prevent violence have cut violent behavior among high school students by 29 percent.

Unfortunately, the report, "The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report,", also found that 24 states scored a five or lower on a set of 10 key indicators of steps states can take to prevent injuries. Some findings include:

  • 29 states do not require bicycle helmets for all children;
  • 17 states do not require that children ride in a car seat or booster seat to at least the age of 8;
  • 31 states do not require helmets for all motorcycle riders;
  • 34 states and Washington, D.C. do not require mandatory ignition interlocks for convicted drunk drivers;
  • 18 states do not have primary seat belt laws;
  • 44 states scored a "B" or lower on a teen dating violence law review by the Break the Cycle organization; and
  • 14 states do not have strong youth sport concussion safety laws.

In addition, the report identified a set of emerging new injury threats, including a dramatic, fast rise in prescription drug abuse, concussions in school sports, bullying, crashes from texting while driving and an expected increase in the number in falls as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

Injuries -- including those caused by accidents and violence -- are the third-leading cause of death nationally, and they are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 44. Approximately 50 million Americans are medically treated for injuries each year, and more than 2.8 million are hospitalized. Nearly 12,000 children and teens die from injuries resulting from accidents each year and around 9.2 million are treated in emergency rooms. Every year, injuries generate $406 billion in lifetime costs for medical care and lost productivity.

Our report, which was developed in partnership with leading injury prevention experts from the Safe States Alliance and the Society for the Advancement of Violence and Injury Research (SAVIR), concludes that millions of injuries could be prevented each year if more states adopted additional research-based injury prevention policies, and if programs were fully implemented and enforced -- yet lack of national capacity and funding are major barriers to states adopting these and other policies. The report also notes that funding for injury prevention for states from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) averages only $0.28 per American -- and has dropped 24 percent from fiscal years 2006 to 2011 -- and only 31 states have full-time injury and violence prevention directors, which limits injury prevention efforts.

If we're going to lower the number of injuries in America, we need to redouble efforts. We need to adopt, implement and enforce evidence-based approaches, and increase public awareness of ways we can all keep ourselves and our families safer.

While individuals are responsible for their own safety and protecting themselves and their families from injuries, experts have found that policies and laws, from child safety seats to poison control centers, can help Americans make healthier and safer choices.

The federal government took an important step by including injury prevention as one of the seven priorities in the National Prevention Strategy (NPS): America's Plan for Better Health and Wellness, released in 2011. The NPS brings 17 federal agencies together for the first time to move the nation from a focus on sickness and injury to prevention and wellness. The NPS can help bring new emphasis to the importance of injury prevention and increase momentum to build win-win partnerships between public health and other sectors. For instance, motor vehicle policies and programs involve working with transportation officials, experts and members of industry, while violence reduction efforts can involve community organizations, social services, education, law enforcement, the judicial system and other areas. These collaborations are another key to successfully reducing injuries.

Also, without continued research, we could backslide on the progress we've made in reducing injury in the U.S. We need to invest in more research to continue to improve the policies we already have in place and find innovative solutions to the new threats we face, like the increase in prescription drug abuse and texting while driving.

As our report concludes, right now, the facts do hurt -- but if we adopted, implemented and enforced more evidence-based strategies to prevent injuries, millions of Americans could be spared from injuries each year.

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