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Crash course: State rated fifth lowest for fatal injuries

Published 7:20 am, Sunday, May 27, 2012
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Connecticut has the fifth-lowest rate of injury-related deaths in the nation, according to a report released last week by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

According to the report, titled "The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report," Connecticut's rate of fatal injuries was 47.9 per 100,000 people. The national average of 57.9 per 100,000.

New Jersey had the lowest rate of fatal injuries, followed by New York, Massachusetts, California and then Connecticut. New Mexico had the highest rate.

This is the first year the report was done, and it was intended to draw attention to an overlooked health hazard, said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, a Washington, D.C.-based health-focused nonprofit. "We tend to underestimate the degree to which injury fatalities affect public health," he said. When people think of injuries, they tend to focus on individual categories, such as auto accidents, instead of seeing the big picture, Levi said.

Injuries of all kinds are the third leading cause of death nationally and the leading cause for those between the ages of 1 and 44. Every year, injuries generate $406 billion in lifetime costs for medical care and lost productivity. The total lifetime medical costs due to fatal injury in Connecticut were $16.3 million.

Motor vehicle accidents remain a major concern, but Levi said the report identified some emerging injury threats, including concussions, prescription drug abuse and an expected increase in the number of falls as the baby boomer population ages.

Levi said it's still unclear what causes one state to have a lower death rate than another, but there are some possible factors. As part of its report, the trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation made a list of 10 steps states can take to prevent injuries and tallied how many of these measures each state had taken.

Connecticut had taken seven of these steps, including having a seat belt law and requiring mandatory ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers. The injury-prevention measures lacking in the state include a universal motorcycle helmet law and a law requiring booster car seats for children until age 8. The state also didn't receive an "A" in the "Break the Cycle" report, a 2010 survey of teen dating violence laws.

No state had all 10 of the injury prevention measures in place, though California and New York had nine out of 10.

Fran Mayko, spokeswoman for AAA Southern New England based in Hamden, said she wasn't surprised at Connecticut's low death rate. "We have some of the strictest safety laws in the country and that makes us a very progressive state when it comes to traffic safety," she said in an email. For instance, Mayko said, Connecticut was in the forefront on passing seat belt laws and has always supported bicycle helmets for children under 18.

acuda@ctpost.com; 203-330-6290; twitter.com/AmandaCuda; http://blog.ctnews.com/whatthehealth/

But she said there's much room for improvement, most notably in the state's lack of a universal motorcycle helmet law.

The state only requires helmets for riders younger than 18 and those who are operating a bike with a training permit. "If a bill surfaced in the future regarding motorcycle helmet use for all riders and passengers, (AAA) would certainly support it," Mayko said. "Many years back, Connecticut did have a helmet law, which ultimately was repealed because various statewide motorcycle-related organizations felt it should be an adult rider's right to choose to wear a helmet. Many organizations still feel this way, so this is still a hot potato."

Mayko said Connecticut has a fairly strict booster seat law that requires kids to stay in some sort of child restraint until they are 7 years old and weigh more than 60 pounds. However, that's still more lenient than the standards recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests that children be in booster seats until they are 4 feet, 9 inches tall and at least 8 years old. Mayko said AAA also recommends this, and would support a law that tightened booster seat standards in the state.

In addition to good safety standards, Levi said access to good trauma care might affect a state's injury fatality rate. But Dr. Michael Werdmann, chairman of Bridgeport Hospital's department of emergency medicine, said departments can have only a limited impact.

"We're largely just receivers," Werdmann said. "Good trauma care can reduce what could have been a fatal injury to a non-fatal injury. But avoiding the injury in the first place is the best way to deal with it."