Americans are one of the most mobile populations on the planet. As a result, roughly one in 35 Americans are involved in a traffic accident each year. Given the amount of time we spend in transit, chances are we will eventually face a crisis on the road.
We lost roughly 58,000 troops in 10 years of combat in Vietnam. By contrast, we lose about 39,000 citizens every year in the roughly 10 million motor-vehicle accidents that occur on American roadways. The improved safety features of modern automobiles eclipses that of their classic precursors, so more people survive accidents than ever before. However, the advent of cell phones and similar portable devices has pushed the epidemic of impaired drivers up astronomically.
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On average, one American is killed every 13 minutes in a traffic accident. Roughly one-third of all fatal traffic accidents involve a drunk driver and one-tenth of all American teens report that they drove at least once in the previous year while intoxicated. Additionally, 16 percent of fatal traffic accidents involve a driver distracted by an electronic device. Americans send about 170 billion text messages per month and, on average, nine of our citizens lose their lives daily in traffic accidents involving a distracted driver. Two-thirds of Americans report that they talk on their cell phones while driving at least monthly, while roughly one-third report texting while driving as well. Nearly half of American teenaged drivers report that they texted while driving in the previous month. What all this means is that the other drivers with whom we share our roads are often dangerously impaired, distracted or both.
Cycling is an ever-popular source of recreation, fitness and low-cost transportation, but around 2 percent of vehicular deaths in America involve bicyclists. The use of a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of head injury in a bicycle crash by 85 percent. Around 1,000 kids per day end up in American ERs due to bike accidents, and on average one child per day dies from this cause. While helmet laws concerning the use of bicycle helmets among children are fairly common, 84 percent of cyclists killed in traffic accidents are older than 20. Statistically speaking, the cyclist most likely to die in a traffic accident is a sober, helmetless male over 16 killed on a major road between intersections in an urban area when hit by a car on a summer evening.
Scooter riders, skateboarders and roller skaters can pose additional risks, especially when most users of these modes of transportation are children or teenagers. As a driver, these operators are small and can easily get in your blind spot. Always be aware that these folks might join you on the road, especially on small side streets, around schools or parks and during nice weather.
Motorcycle injuries follow a comparably predictable trajectory. While I do not personally condone mandatory helmet laws, anyone who rides a motorcycle or bicycle without a helmet is being dangerously irresponsible. A motorcyclist who suffers a motorcycle accident without a helmet while wearing shorts and a T-shirt incurs arguably the most viscerally repugnant injuries I have encountered in my extensive medical experience. If you choose to ride, be sensible. Wear a helmet and appropriate riding gear to mitigate the damage in a crash.
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Chances are, at some point in your driving career, you will be first on the scene of a serious accident. While the ubiquitous nature of cell phones means that help will be forthcoming in most cases, it still behooves the responsible citizen to be prepared to operate without support for a time. Formal survival kits like those from Echo-Sigma or the Vehicle Trauma Kit from Solutions Group International are great. For those times when you are genuinely on your own, however, you have to make do with what you have.
If you feel qualified, take charge of the situation. If you do not feel qualified but no one else steps up, then take charge anyway. People in a crisis typically desire and require direction. The military axiom is “Lead or be led.” In many cases, simply keeping your head and providing a single point from which victims can take guidance and solace can keep a situation from deteriorating into panic or chaos.
In the absence of the threat of fire, try not to move an accident victim if there is the possibility of a spinal injury. If fire is imminent or if there would be greater danger in remaining in place, then make an insightful assessment and move as necessary. Do not attempt to straighten angulated limbs unless absolutely necessary. Jagged, fractured bones can cause further damage if manipulated outside of a controlled medical environment.
CPR and artificial respiration can be life-saving maneuvers if performed appropriately, and every able-bodied citizen should be CPR qualified. Keep victims warm and dry, and elevate their legs if practical to combat shock while awaiting an ambulance. Make a thorough assessment of an accident scene. Frequently, victims may be ejected from a vehicle or crammed into unexpected spaces after a crash.
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Lose a liter of blood in 20 minutes and you get dizzy. Make that 2 liters in the same period and it is life threatening. If there is copious bleeding, do not hesitate to act. In the case of significant bleeding, a handy T-shirt or similar piece of clothing can make an improvised pressure bandage. Cover the wound, apply pressure and many vigorously bleeding wounds will abate.
A tourniquet can be improvised from a shoelace, a belt or a necktie, but it is a tool of desperation. If the hemorrhage cannot be controlled through more conservative means, locate the tourniquet between the wound and the heart and wrap your tourniquet material in a loose loop around the limb. Then take a handy straight object of some sort and twist the end of the loop to tighten it around the limb. Tighten the loop until you can get two fingers underneath it with difficulty. Keep in mind that the proper use of tourniquet can result in the loss of an arm or leg so make this decision soberly.
Back when I lived in the Alaskan interior, our vehicles did not move without a proper survival kit on board. While this is de rigeur in Alaska, it is a sound concept in other parts of the country as well. During a recent winter storm in Atlanta, Georgia, motorists on an interstate highway found themselves cut off, cold and stranded for as much as a day due to unexpected icy conditions.
A proper sleeping bag is an indispensible part of a survival loadout. These devices compress to occupy very little space and are reasonably priced. In addition to their conventional uses, a sleeping bag can be used to keep an accident victim warm and mitigate the effects of shock.
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Your vehicular survival kit should include basic medical supplies, a decent knife, a source of light and a pry bar of some sort if the vehicle does not include a traditional tire iron. You need to be able to break window glass and cut seatbelt material both day and night. The StatGear T3 Tactical Auto Rescue Tool incorporates most of these features into a single, inexpensive device.
The T3 includes a spring-loaded, steel-tipped window punch, a 440C stainless steel hook blade for safely cutting seatbelt webbing and an LED light with replaceable batteries. There is a conventional 0.5-inch, serrated, stainless steel cutting blade along with a stainless belt clip and a heavy-duty nylon belt sheath. The entire tool is only 5 inches long and weighs a paltry 6.4 ounces. While you can make do with lots of things, a little store-bought dedicated gear is almost always better. The StatGear T3 is small enough to hide in a glove box yet can make an impromptu auto rescue so much easier.
Given the widespread prevalence of bloodborne pathogens, a few pairs of nitrile gloves and a barrier mask for artificial respiration are handy. Imagine the sorts of challenges you might face and then equip yourself accordingly. My kit includes a RATS tourniquet system, a couple of Israeli battle dressings and some trauma shears, along with a handful of light sticks and a survival knife. While such stuff can safe lives in a dire crisis, it can also help you change a spare tire in the dark when things are simply frustrating rather than frightening.
As I told each of my teenaged children as they began driving, it is not their skills that I worry about; it is the people with whom they share the road. Drive defensively and be prepared. The difference between a hysterical bystander and a hero is seldom more than a little training combined with a survivor’s mentality. The most capable survival tool ever devised rests solidly upon your shoulders. The critical piece is simply being ready to use your instincts efficiently when the time comes.
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For More Information:
Echo-Sigma: echo-sigma.com; 424-241-3246
Solutions Group International: solutionsgroupinternational.com; 877-844-8744
StatGear Tools: statgeartools.com; 718-551-1815
RATS Tourniquet: ratstourniquet.com; 206-851-0537
This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Fall 2015 edition. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.