June 2012 Archives

Car accidents can cause both physical and mental injury, research shows

14765_sammy_sad.jpgFor most of us, getting behind the wheel is the riskiest thing we do all day. Auto accidents are one of the leading causes of deaths in the United States, but according to Forbes, the general public doesn't always recognize how dangerous driving can be. Because crashes are scattered throughout the country, happening in "ones and twos," many of us lose sight of how many accidents take place every single day: approximately 110 nationwide.

Locally, Missouri auto fatalities are on the rise for the first time since 2007, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol: there have been 375 deaths from auto accidents in the first six months of 2012, which means 62 more motorists died this year than during the first six months of 2011. The Springfield and Joplin areas are experiencing the highest increase in traffic fatalities with a 59% rise compared to 2011.

If you've ever been involved in a serious accident, you know the experience can be nightmarish. What's more, in addition to the physical consequences that accompany car crash injuries, research has shown that motorists may experience mental consequences as well. Traumatic accidents can cause symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Although PTSD is most often associated with the horrors of combat, millions of Americans suffer from this mental disease, which can be brought on by a number of different causes: many Americans report PTSD symptoms after living through auto accidents, house fires and natural disasters.

Of course, it's natural to feel nervous, afraid and upset after an accident: most people do. It is good to have a healthy fear of the road, but too much fear can actually put a driver in danger. To help overcome feelings of anxiety about driving, start slow. Start by just sitting in the driver's seat and simply starting the engine. Then, step by step, try to work your way up to taking a short drive. As you become more comfortable behind the wheel, extend the length of your driving time. Remember to push yourself, but not too far. Take small steps. Over time, driving will become easier, and fear and panic will subside.

However, there's an important distinction between normal feelings of uneasiness and fear and PTSD symptoms. Familydoctor.org reports that "strong feelings that stay with a person for a long time and start to get in the way of everyday life are signs of [PTSD]." For most car accident victims, the symptoms subside as time passes, but those afflicted with PTSD experience fear and panic that seems overwhelming and never-ending.

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Jury Finds Driver Not Guilty of Negligent Homicide in Crash That Killed Family of Five

file000704919536.jpgOn Friday, a jury returned a not guilty verdict in the trial of 35 year-old Monica Chavez, who was charged with five counts of criminally negligent homicide and two counts of child abuse. The charges were connected to a fatal car crash caused by Chavez, who had a seizure while behind the wheel.

On February 17, 2011, police say Chavez lost control of her SUV and slammed into a Mazda sedan before hitting a median, which launched the SUV into the air. It landed on a pickup truck carrying a family of five: 34 year-old Randy Stollsteimer; his wife, 31 year-old Crystaldawn; and their three children, 12 year-old Sebastian, 9 year-old Darrian, and 7 year-old Cyrus. All five were killed in the crash. Chavez's passengers - her two children - were also injured in the wreck.

During the trial, which included three days of testimony, prosecutors argued that Chavez was negligent because she failed to follow up with a neurologist after having a seizure-like episode in 2006. At that time, Chavez was treated at a hospital, and the physician told her not to drive until she had been cleared by a neurologist. However, that recommendation wasn't appropriately transferred to Chavez's discharge papers, and Chavez instead followed up with her own primary physician, who didn't feel that the episode was actually a seizure.

"No doctor will tell you that she should not have been driving five years after something that they never called a seizure," Chavez's attorney, Megan Downing, said in court. "She was told she was fine and that's why she was in the car that day."

Then, in 2010, Chavez reportedly had another seizure-like episode, but she did not seek treatment. Downing said both Chavez and her husband believed that episode was connected to heat stroke.

The trial earned increased interest after Secretary of Commerce John Bryson was found unconscious in his vehicle on June 9 after reportedly suffering a seizure while driving. According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Bryson rear ended a vehicle at a railroad crossing, spoke with the occupants of the vehicle, and then drove away, hitting the vehicle again as he left. Then, Bryson struck another vehicle about five minutes later. He has not been formally charged, and no one was seriously injured. Three days later, Bryson announced that he was taking a medical leave of absence.

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Texting and Driving Increases Already High Crash Risks for Teens During Summer Months

On June 7, the Centers for Disease Control released the findings of the 2011 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), which is conducted in high schools across the U.S. every two years. The survey asks students about behaviors that have proven to pose health risks to teens, and for the first time ever, the YRBS included questions about distracted driving. The findings? Despite many prevalent distracted driving campaigns specifically aimed at teens, about 1 out of 3 teen drivers admitted to texting and driving within the past 30 days.

1308588_motorway_at_twilight.jpgThe YRBS results were released just days after a Massachusetts teenager received a prison sentence for causing a fatal accident while texting. Following a trial, 18 year-old Aaron Deveau was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, but after considering Deveau's age and clean criminal record, the judge suspended a portion of the jail time. Deveau will serve a year of his sentence.

Teens are less experienced than older drivers, and more likely to take risks: there's no question that distraction compounds these existing crash risk factors. What's more, at this time of year, the threat is even greater. Statistically, the period of time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is known as the "100 Deadliest Days" of the year for teen drivers, because the daily number of teen crash deaths increases significantly during the summer months.

DriversEd.com offers these tips to help keep your teen driver safe during the summer and throughout the year:

• Start talking with your teen drivers about the importance of safety. Discuss the risks and responsibilities of driving, and help them understand what's at stake when they're behind the wheel.

• Set ground rules regarding the number of passengers they may carry (and what drivers they can ride with). While driver distraction is more commonly associated with cell phone use, passengers can also be dangerously distracting, especially for teen drivers.

• Limit the time your teen driver can spend behind the wheel during the evening hours. It is most important to limit the number of passengers during these nighttime hours as well.

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Deadly Car Crashes on the Rise in Greene County

669881_curve_ahead_2.jpgIn the first five months of 2012, fatal car accidents in Greene County have increased by 53% compared to last year, reports the Missouri Highway Patrol. At the beginning of June 2011, there had been seven deadly crashes in the county. In comparison, as of June 2, 2012, there have been 23.

"I'm very surprised. It's one of the biggest jumps that we've ever seen," Matt Brown, spokesperson for the Springfield Police Department, told the News Leader. "And it's more alarming than surprising. We're very, very concerned as law enforcement, because it is such a large jump."

In a recent SPD news release, law enforcement officials identified driver distraction as a key contributor to this sharp increase in fatal accidents. More drivers are using cell phones behind the wheel, which makes them less likely to follow traffic laws and anticipate the actions of nearby motorists. Research has shown that talking on a cell phone while driving causes a 37% reduction in the amount of brain activity associated with driving, while drivers who text are 23 times more likely to crash.

Given current accident trends, Greene County drivers will want to exercise special caution during the summer travel season, which invariably brings higher traffic volume to roadways in Missouri and nationwide. Below, you'll find a few tips designed to help keep you safe on the road in the busy months ahead.

Summertime Safety Tips for Drivers

• Avoid distractions.
Cell phones. Eating and drinking. Playing with the radio. Passengers. In the past five years, over seven million U.S. car accidents have been attributed to these distractions. Don't let other tasks tempt you when you're behind the wheel: when you drive, just drive.

• Protect your driving space.
Use the two-second rule to make sure there's an adequate distance between your vehicle and the vehicles traveling near you. Also, remember that tailgating and hasty lane changes create increased accident risks.

• Treat larger vehicles like "big rigs."
Most of us know that we have to be careful when we're driving alongside tractor trailers and other commercial vehicles. However, RVs and passenger vehicles pulling trailers or boats can be dangerous for the same reasons. If we're traveling in smaller passenger vehicles, we would do well to remember that we're outsized by many vehicles on the road, and to protect ourselves accordingly.

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