The Risks We Like To Take

With every passing day, the chances that I will die continue to approach certainty. It’s a slow approach to that 100% chance, but it’s happening. All I can do is slow down that acceleration to oblivion (and beyond?) by doing certain things and not doing others. For example, I have to go for a jog/swim/run/bike ride more often, eat more veggies, and get yearly check-ups with my doctor. I also have to wear a helmet when riding the bike and my seatbelt when driving.

You know, simple things.

Still, plenty of people around the world do things that accelerate their demise and fail to do things that delay their end. Admittedly, if they didn’t, I’d be out of a job. Still, I wish more people did the simple things that keep them from dying.

The only exhibit I need to explain my case is one that is not rare at all. Last week, a family of four from Omaha, Nebraska, were on their way back home through Utah from a vacation in California. The driver of the van likely fell asleep while driving. Out of the five people in the van, four were killed when it rolled over. According to police, none were wearing their seatbelts, not even the 10-month old (who should have been in a car seat.)

Here we have four adults who decided that they were not going to wear the one thing that has improved the safety record of cars more than most other improvements to car design. Their decision led to the very early death of a fifth person, a baby. (As a father, that’s the part that really grinds my gears.) Why they made that choice boggles my mind. One can reasonably argue that they were aware of the benefits (and the laws) concerning seat belts.

So what do we do? How do we prevent those excess deaths and injuries? Pass more laws? Well, laws can only take us so far, as we see with seat belts. Every state has a law regarding their use, but we still have about 15,000 deaths from injuries in automobile accidents where the victims were not vaccinated strapped into their seatbelts. How do we get to those last 15,000? Better cars and better drivers, of course… All from better public health science and policy recommendations. And all that science and recommendations comes from research.

Can you imagine if we were prohibited from doing research into better cars and better drivers by Federal law? Can you imagine if the big car companies paid policymakers to pass those laws? The uproar would be phenomenal… But that’s the case for gun manufacturers. They’ve successfully bribed lobbied Congress to pass laws prohibiting agencies like CDC and NIH from researching gun deaths.

That all is for another post at a later time.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen