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Youth still in peril behind the wheel Add to ...

Motor vehicle traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24.

More than 4,000 people are hospitalized every year for treatment of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle crash. People who do not wear their seat belts are 16 times more likely to be killed in a traffic crash than belted occupants.

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More than one-third of motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol use and males are 2.3 times more likely to die in alcohol-related crashes than females.

These and many other statistics on unintentional road- and transport-related injuries among children, youth and young adults to the age of 24 are contained in Injury in review, 2012 Edition: Spotlight on Road and Transport Safety recently released by Public Health Agency Canada. The country’s top public health officer says transport-related incidents remain one of the leading threats to the health of Canada’s children, youth and young adults. “Further injury prevention efforts are needed,” says Dr. David Butler-Jones, chief public health officer, Public Health Agency of Canada.

He says the report, a collaboration with Safe Kids Canada and the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF), will increase awareness and contribute knowledge to support effective road and transport injury prevention policies, as well as safer behaviour among Canada’s road users.

The report does show some progress in efforts to reduce the carnage on our roads. More than 95 per cent of Canadians are using seat belts and child restraints. There has been a modest reduction in the number of pedestrians killed in collisions. Overall, between 1979 and 2007, mortality rates from collisions have declined by 4 per cent on average and the number of people hospitalized dropped 6 per cent a year.

But not all the news was good.

The annual proportion of alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities has not gone down since the 1990s. As a result, traffic safety researchers are starting to track impairments due to other factors such as fatigue and the use of medications and illicit drugs.

Driver distraction, especially when related to cellphones and other interactive electronic devices, has become a major factor, disproportionately affecting young drivers. The rising rates of injuries and death related to off-highway vehicles is of concern.

In an analysis of the economic burden, the report says transport-related injuries represented an estimated $3.8-billion in 2004.

In looking at mortality rates, injuries of all types is the leading cause of death for Canadians 1-44 and the fourth leading cause for Canadians of all ages. Suffocation is the leading cause for infants less than a year old, motor vehicle collisions for the 1-24 age group, suicide for 25-69 year olds and falls for those over the age of 70. A further look at the statistics for the 1-24 age range reveals that, for 20-24 year olds, males were three times more likely than females to be involved in motor vehicle traffic-related deaths and twice as likely to be hospitalized.

Off-highway vehicle-related injuries are becoming more common. The report says the proportion of Canadians under the age of 24 admitted to hospital for injuries related to off-highway vehicles is almost twice that of motor vehicle related injuries for the same age group. Of those involving people under the legal driving age, more than 50 per cent were in the driver seat for ATVs, 60 per cent for snowmobiles and 89 per cent for dirt bikes.

The report concludes that although there has been considerable success in reducing collisions and related consequences over the last three decades, motor vehicle crashes remain a major public health challenge and the leading cause of death and injury for Canadians of all ages, but especially children, youth and young adults. “There is more work to be done and everyone has a role in making transportation safer.”

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