Injury Prevention

No Distracted Driving: A Trauma Surgeon’s Road Safety Tips

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

During his 11-year career working in the Level 1 Trauma Center at Henry Ford Hospital, orthopedic trauma surgeon Joseph Hoegler, M.D., has seen his fair share of broken bones – arms, legs and hips. Not surprisingly, many are the result of motor vehicle accidents.

Between 2010 and 2017, the number of accidents in Michigan increased 13 percent and the number of injuries jumped 10 percent, according to figures compiled by the Michigan State Police.

Injuries sustained in accidents are costly, too. In 2012, a crash-related visit to the Emergency Department cost about $3,300 and a hospitalization about $57,000 over a person’s lifetime, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not all accidents are avoidable, of course. But people can reduce their risk for injury, says Dr. Hoegler, division head of Orthopedic Trauma for the Department of Orthopedic Surgery by following some simple safety tips.

  • Just drive. “Never take your eyes off the road for anything,” Dr. Hoegler says. Distracted driving is the leading factor in most crashes and near-crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Most people equate distracted driving with phone use or even eating in the car. Add driving with a pet in your arm to the list. “Pets on your lap is a big distraction,” Dr. Hoegler says. “How are you going to run the wheel in an emergency?”
  • Keep your arm inside the vehicle. Dr. Hoegler says a year doesn’t go by without at least one amputation case in which a patient loses an arm that was dangling out the window at the time of an accident.
  • Use good judgment. After you pull over due to a flat tire, Dr. Hoegler advises you to stay in your car with your seatbelt and flashers on until roadside assistance arrives. Standing outside the vehicle puts you at risk for getting hit by a passing motorist, he says. When acting as a good Samaritan, make sure to check the surroundings first before aiding the injured. “Whatever you do, you want to do it in a way that doesn’t put yourself at risk,” Dr. Hoegler says.
  • Getting unstuck. Most drivers have had at least one experience when their vehicle got stuck in the snow and the tires just kept spinning without traction. Dr. Hoegler cautions about pushing the vehicle from behind. If the snow is heavy with ice, the tires can throw out ice chunks at a force that can cause a lower leg injury or even break the bone as was the case of one patient last winter.

What is a Level 1 Trauma Center?

When you hear of a “trauma center,” it’s referring to a hospital or emergency department that is staffed to provide care for patients suffering from major traumatic injuries like falls, motor vehicle accidents or gunshot wounds. The American College of Surgeons officially designates different trauma centers based on the level of care they are able to provide to traumatic injury victims.

A Level 1 trauma center is the highest level of certification, meaning that this center has the expertise and resources to care for the most critically injured accident victims. Depending on the nature of a trauma case, the orthopedic trauma team may be one of several specialty disciplines involved in the care of patients including acute care surgery, neurosurgery, emergency medicine and vascular surgery.

“The care provided to patients is coordinated very seamlessly between our medical teams,” Dr. Hoegler says. “Patients can be assured they’re getting the best care available.”

In case of emergency, call 911 immediately.

If a medical emergency strikes, will you know where to go? The Henry Ford ER Locator smart phone app can quickly route you to the closest Henry Ford Emergency Room. Not sure if you need the ER? The app also lists other care options, including Urgent Care and Same Day Clinic locations. Download it to your smart phone today.

Dr. Joseph Hoegler is an orthopedic trauma surgeon seeing patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.