Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Stay Safe On The Roads This Winter

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Dear Dr. Gerhart: I work at a Milwaukee emergency room, and every year we see tragic and fatal motor vehicle accidents. Now that snow is here, can you please remind people about safe driving and how to stay safe this winter?


Dear Reader: You are absolutely right. Road safety is a significant concern, especially in the winter.


According to a 2011 Wisconsin Department of Transportation report, December is the worst month for car accidents. There were 13,000 accidents that caused property damage, injury or death in the state last December, and that doesn't include unreported accidents or those causing minimal damage. Of these 13,000 accidents, 2,786 caused severe injury, and 34 resulted in death.


The greatest number of crashes occur around 5 p.m., but the greatest percentage of fatalities happens around 2 a.m. As you might imagine, a fair number of late-night crashes involve alcohol.


Clearly, this is a safety concern. And although you can't always predict the weather or how another person will react, you can take responsibility for yourself and those in your vehicle.


This holiday season, the Wisconsin DOT is partnering with local police departments to encourage motorists to take responsibility for their driving safety. To do this, they have launched the "SMART" initiative, which stands for: sober, moderate speed, alert at all times, restrained with seat belts, and thoughtful driving.


The DOT has had other slogans in the past, such as "Click It or Ticket" and "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over." However, the SMART initiative focuses more on what you should do on the road, rather than the consequences. The goal is to make you a better driver for the sake of your own health and that of others.


Let me expand on the SMART themes. First, stay sober. If you are going to a holiday or New Year's party, consider cabbing it. If you go with a date or group, decide before going who will stay sober and drive. And don't try to rope the designated driver into "just one drink."


Next, use moderate speed. In some circumstances, this should be modified to "no speed." In other words, if the roads are bad, don't drive. Call your loved ones and let them know you will need to come a different day.


This also applies to the "alert at all times" idea. If you are too tired to drive, don't drive. Be sure to pack snacks or even caffeinated beverages for long trips. And if your vision at night is poor, try to travel during the day.


As for "restrained with seat belts," if traveling with kids, make sure that they have the appropriately sized car seat or booster seat and that it is facing in the correct direction. Discourage family members from manipulating the seat belts so they can lie across the back seat.


Finally, be a thoughtful driver. Keep plenty of space between you and the car in front of you. Don't make sudden movements. Use traffic signals.


Additionally, drivers should be sure their car has good windshield wipers and no broken or cracked windows. Get good all-season or snow tires, and check tire treads and pressure. Be sure to have more than enough gas to get to your destination. And watch for deer on roadways.


Wow, I sound like my mother. But mothers do know best - and in this case their advice could save lives. Stay safe this winter!

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.

Date Published: 12/11/2012

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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