Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pedestrian Injuries on the Rise

Hospital Holds Summit to Address Local Impact

By Patricia Adams

On Friday, January 22, physicians, hospital administrators, transportation and traffic safety experts and community activists gathered at Elmhurst Hospital Center (EHC) for the Second Annual New York City Summit on Pedestrian Injury. The one-day symposium, part of a public education and outreach campaign developed by Elmhurst Hospital Center’s Trauma and Neurosurgery Departments, examined pedestrian injuries and their impact on public health.

“Neighborhoods in western and central Queens have seen an increasing rise in the number of traffic accidents involving pedestrians,” said Dr. Jaime Ullman, Elmhurst Hospital Center’s Director of Neurosurgery and one of the chief organizers of the summit. “According to a recent study we conducted, traffic accidents involving pedestrians, especially those taking place on Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, and Roosevelt Avenue, resulted in more than 30% of the injuries seen in Elmhurst Hospital Center’s Emergency Room.”

Ullman noted that that statistic is frighteningly high. “Pedestrian injuries typically make up 9% to 25% of injuries seen at hospitals in other parts of the city.”

Pedestrian safety remains a paramount concern in Queens County, strongly supported by the studies done at Elmhurst. Almost 1,000 patients were admitted to Elmhurst due to pedestrian injury with 21% of victims under the age of 18 and 23% of patients over the age of 65. The additional patients, roughly numbering 600, were between the ages of 24 and 65. Approximately 7% of the patients studied died as a result of their injuries and those who survived spent an average of eleven days in the hospital.

In New York City, children and seniors have both been the focus of initiatives to promote pedestrian safety. Safe Streets for Seniors was launched in 2007 by the Bloomberg administration and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) as a program to evaluate pedestrian conditions from a senior’s perspective and make engineering changes such as extending pedestrian crossing times at crosswalks and shortening crossing distances, altering curbs and sidewalks, restricting vehicle turns and narrowing roadways.

The Safe Kids New York State program was developed to prevent injuries and death to children, and is run by a coalition of public and private organizations working primarily to promote child passenger and pedestrian safety measures. More children die annually from unintentional injury than from all childhood diseases combined.

But despite measures taken by the city 256 people were treated at the hospital for a pedestrian injury last year which is the highest number in almost 10 years. There were 240 in 2008 and 215 in 2007.

The DOT responded in a statement saying that "fatalities in NYC are at their lowest levels in the century that we've kept records, and we continue to work even harder to make streets even safer with safety engineering improvements to target our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

The Elmhurst Hospital summit revealed a number of noteworthy trends; more injuries occurred during the fall months and on weekends. Children were the most likely affected during these periods while the elderly population was impacted more during the weekday period. The majority of pedestrian injuries occurred between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

While experts acknowledged that there have been many efforts to alleviate this problem, including the passing of pedestrian safety legislation, pedestrian injuries still have a significant impact on the community. The unique aspects of pedestrian injury involve difficulty with law-enforcement and the ability to conduct a large-scale educational campaign to include both pedestrians and motor vehicles.

According to hospital officials, the purpose of the Summit was to convene those involved in pedestrian safety, highlight individual prevention programs and their impact, and promote broader awareness of the problem, while coming to a consensus on the optimal pathways for change.

“We really need to make an aggressive, multilingual outreach effort to educate the public about these injuries,” said Dr. Ullman when asked what additional steps she thought should be taken to help reduce the number of pedestrian injury victims. “In a way, I’d like to be put out of business, because we are seeing way too many patients with serious blunt trauma injuries that were entirely preventable.”

For more about Elmhurst Hospital Center’s Pedestrian Injury Prevention Campaign, please contact Atiya Butler, Assistant Director of External Affairs, at 718.334.1259 or by e-mail at

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