Public Health Nursing Issues of Distracted Driving

Abstract

The high number of road accident fatalities has increased the attention to causative factors with an aim to curbing the problem. With such attention to factors that lead to high risk for road accidents, distractive driving has been enjoined with speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol as the most implicated causes. The purpose of this paper was to evaluate the public health nursing issues of distractive driving. The paper has based the discussions presented through evaluating findings and submissions in literature and interviewing three professionals – a nurse, a traffic police officer, and a NSC employee. Causes such as use of texting while driving have been shown to lead to all the three types of distraction – visual, manual and cognitive. The paper also presents the health statistics associated with distracted driving and also discusses studies on the most vulnerable groups. The main recommendation for public health nursing is the increased education of the public on the dangers of distractive driving.

Introduction

Road accidents’ fatalities have become a major public health concern in many countries with the number of lives claimed by such accidents remaining high. For instance, the number of people killed in road accidents globally is estimated to be over 1.2 million with the range of non-fatal injuries estimated to arise from these crashes being 20 to 50 million (WHO, 2009, p. Vii). Such road traffic injuries are noted to increase in many parts of the world with the most affected countries in terms of fatality rates being the low-income and middle-income countries; whose rates are estimated at 21.5 and 19.5 per 100 000 population respectively, while for high-income countries the rates are in the range of 10.3 (WHO, 2009, p. Vii). Despite the lower rates in the high-income countries compared to other countries, road accident-related injuries still remain a major contributor to death and disability also in these countries (WHO, 2009). While for low and middle income countries vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists account for the majority of road accident fatalities, for high-income countries vehicle occupants have contributed the majority of road crashes-related deaths (WHO, 2009). If allowed to continue unabated, the WHO forecasts that road accidents could become the number five cause of death by 2030 surpassing pandemics such as HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis (WHO, 2009). Such forecasts have raised the attention of various public health stakeholders since the road accidents, in addition to being a potential risk for future productivity of the population, also presents a major health concern with many people being left debilitated by such accidents.

With the grim picture on road-related fatalities being acknowledged, addressing causative factors of crashes has become a public health policy priority for many countries. Apart from driving under influence of alcohol and speeding that have historically been recognized to constitute prime candidates for road crashes (WHO, 2009), another main contributor has been identified to be distracted driving. According to the National Safety Council (hereinafter NSC); road crashes in the United States attributable to talking on cell phones while driving – one of the forms of driver distraction –  were estimated at 1.6 million in 2008 (2009, p. 1). Such indications of the role that distracted driving could be playing in increasing the number of road crashes has attracted much attention within public health sectors. The purpose of this paper is thus to evaluate the public health nursing issues of distracted driving focusing on the U.S. First the paper assesses what constitutes distractive driving and then its causative factors are discussed. Once these are established the paper will present health statistics and the vulnerable populations to demonstrate why the issue is of concern for public health stakeholders. Further the ethical, legal, and political and cultural aspects of distractive driving will be considered and then intervention strategies at the primary, secondary and tertiary level and their effectiveness will be evaluated. Finally the paper makes recommendations for the future of nursing, research, and health policy. To better address these areas the paper includes input from interviews conducted with a nursing professional, a law enforcement officer (a traffic police officer), and an employee of the National Safety Council. Go  to part 2 here.

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