It's perfectly normal to feel a bit nervous about getting into an auto accident each time you get behind the wheel. Or maybe even just going out for a walk, as approximately 74,000 people are struck by a vehicle in the U.S. each year.
It turns out, however, there are plenty of other injuries more likely to occur, some less harmful, some more so. All in all, though, you're most likely to slam your finger in the door when the car isn't even moving.
At nearly 150,000 incidents per year, injuries caused by a closing door are the most common auto-related injury, according to a report released yesterday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The report evaluated the type and amount of non-traffic-related injuries nationwide, the first time the government agency has compiled such data.
Along with those 150,000 people who injured themselves closing a car door, another 10,000 each year are seriously injured when using a jack or other type of hoist. A full 74,000 are injured by a falling vehicle or vehicle part.
"I don't think anyone until now had an accurate sense of the extent of vehicle-related injuries and fatalities that did not occur on a public highway," says Rae Tyson, a spokesman for NHTSA. "It certainly underscores the risks that exist in a vehicle whether it's on the road or off, and I hope it will call some attention to some of those issues."
Behind the Numbers
Data for the report were compiled by the NHTSA, the traffic arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation. They were collected primarily through police reports in 2007, death certificates and the number of fatalities registered by the Not-in-Traffic Surveillance system, a virtual data collector of details regarding nontraffic crashes nationwide.
Researchers estimated an annual total of 1,747 fatalities and 841,000 injuries due to nontraffic crashes and noncrash incidents. Nontraffic crashes include back-over crashes and single-vehicle crashes that did not occur on a national highway.
An estimated 98,000 injuries occur in nontraffic crashes on private roads, collisions with pedestrians on driveways, and two-vehicle crashes in parking facilities, the report said, while 743,000 injuries happened from noncrash incidents like hyperthermia and electrocution.
Unfortunately, accidents that happen while the car is parked or immobile are not covered by auto insurance, according to Sam Belden, vice president of Insurance.com. "The short answer is that if someone is driving, it's covered," Belden says. "It's a pretty blanket statement."
Second on the list is overexertion, causing 88,000 injuries annually. The category includes loading and unloading cargo or pushing a disabled vehicle.
Dave Salmon, director of traffic services for the New York State Police, says the latter is always a bad idea, especially during the winter. He recommends using kitty litter and a small shovel to get traction on snow and ice--not your buddy pushing the vehicle from behind.
"It's something that can be a dangerous situation," Salmon says. "The best thing to do is try to get out on your own first by using those techniques and trying by rocking your car back and forth gently. It's so easy for someone to slip on the ice and fall down and get run over."
Like injuries from pushing cars, many accidents cited in the report did not happen to the person driving the vehicle. One-third of the nontraffic crash injuries involved pedestrians and cyclists. Accidentally backing over someone accounted for 14% of injuries; children, difficult to see in blind spots, are often the victims.
Nearly 50% of children injured in back-over incidents are between the ages of 1 and 4, according to research from Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Ore. Forty-seven percent of those accidents happen at home, while another 40% happen in driveways or parking lots.
Matthew Gareths, a spokesman for the Children's Safety Center at Doernbecher, says auto-related injuries are among the most common seen at the hospital. Many of them, like hyperthermia (37 deaths per year, most of them children) and back-overs (221 fatalities per year), could be prevented by forming safe daily rituals, he says.
"It's mostly breaks in routine" that cause unsafe situations, Gareths says. "Because Americans tend to be stretched very thin, it can be easy to forget your child."
The good news, however, is that most auto-related injuries are preventable. Maintaining auto parts, using common sense and staying focused in the driveway or parking lot go a long way.
Understanding basic car maintenance could have prevented some of the 9,000 injuries caused by burns from radiator and antifreeze fluid, Tyson says. Those who don't release the pressure carefully or wear gloves while doing so could get a blast of liquid more than 200 degrees in temperature.
In other words, even the simplest things should be done with care. Saving a few minutes in the driveway by not reading an owner's manual or leaving cargo unsecured isn't worth the risk.
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