N.D. deaths from injuries tops averageThe number of people who died from their injuries in North Dakota is on the high side among the states while the equivalent number in Minnesota is on the low side, according to a new national report that suggests safety policies may play a role in such differences.
By: By TJ Jerke , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
The number of people who died from their injuries in North Dakota is on the high side among the states while the equivalent number in Minnesota is on the low side, according to a new national report that suggests safety policies may play a role in such differences.
Between 2007 and 2009, there were 61.1 deaths from injuries — as opposed to disease or other factors — for every 100,000 North Dakotans. In Minnesota, that rate was 51.2. Nationwide, the average was 57.9.
Trust for America’s Health, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit, compiled the statistics and issued “ The Facts Hurt: A State-by-State Injury Prevention Policy Report ,” a checklist of policies states could institute, released last week.
These policies include, for example, stronger enforcement of seatbelt laws or requiring convicted drunk drivers to install devices that check their breath before their vehicles will start.
North Dakota has among the fewest of these safety policies, with just three out of 10, while Minnesota has five of the suggested policies.
“It isn’t the best, we know that, we would definitely like improvement,” said Mary Dasovick, director of the Division of Injury Prevention and Control, an arm of the North Dakota Department of Health. “We do have to work with what we have now, and try to make improvements through policies or laws.”
Following the 2011 legislative session, North Dakota joined 36 other states in adding a youth sport concussion law, which requires all schools with athletic activities to take part in a concussion management program.
The program requires coaches to have biennial training, and remove students from play if they report signs of a concussion. Likewise, the program requires the removed athlete to be examined promptly and they may not return to active play without a thorough examination.
“There are a higher percentage of concussions being seen as a result of the law,” said Matt Roller, a private-practice neurologist in Grand Forks. “The numbers are great because the younger a person has a concussion, the more long-term repercussions there may be, so we’re glad they are being recognized earlier.”
Roller said the law has also helped keep young athletes from recurrent concussions, which are easier to obtain after the first one.
North Dakota was also recognized by “The Facts Hurt” for allowing people in dating relationships — not just married partners — to obtain protection orders, and for its prescription drug monitoring program.
Authorized in 2005 by the Legislature, the state requires all pharmacists to report all prescribed and dispensed controlled substances electronically to the North Dakota Board of Pharmacy.
Monitoring programs make it easier to detect drug abuse or if drugs are being siphoned for illegal purposes.
More work ahead
But there’s more that North Dakota could do, according to “The Facts Hurt.”
The state does not automatically require convicted drunk drivers to use ignition interlocks, which are breathalyzers connected to their vehicles.
The state also does not require motorcyclists or young bicyclists to wear helmets. And, it does not require car seats for children 8 or younger.
It does not have a primary seat belt law, which allows police officers to issue a ticket for not wearing seatbelts without any other traffic offense. The state has a secondary seat belt law, and officers may only issue a ticket for not wearing seat belts if there is another traffic offense involved.
The state has no system in place to collect data about injuries. Hospitals and clinics may report only that there was an injury but not the cause of the injury, which is needed to detect dangerous trends and develop policies to manage them.
Carma Hanson, coordinator of Safe Kids Grand Forks, a coalition to educate and prevent injuries, said the state’s score largely reflects the state legislature and laws.
“There are a lot of people who are going to do something because the law tells them to,” she said. “Legislation leads to education and education leads to compliance with safety standards.”
Still, North Dakota has addressed many of the policies “The Facts Hurt” discusses, if not as completely as the report recommends.
Convicted drunk drivers aren’t automatically required to have ignition interlocks, but judges can require it at their discretion.
Motorcyclists aren’t required to wear helmets, unless they are minors.
Motorists can’t be ticketed only for failure to wear seat belts, but they can be if they’re minors.
Hanson said she believes a universal primary seat belt law will probably come during the 2013 legislative session. But state Sen. Dave Oehlke, R-Devils Lake, vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, suggested it probably won’t change anything.
Law enforcement officials have told the committee a primary seat belt law is not cost effective or beneficial, he said. “Frankly, most people wear a seatbelt,” he said. “We find particular accidents have other factors involved where a seatbelt may have not prevented any injuries.”
Hanson said of the 148 traffic deaths last year, 60 percent involved motorists who didn’t wear seatbelts.
On the other hand, Oehlke said, a universal helmet law, which the Legislature repealed in 1977, might make some headway. “If that came in front of our committee, I think there would be some good support,” he said. “But there would be a lot of people who would complain.”
A helmet law for bicyclists would be less popular, mostly because enforcement would be costly, he said. “If we had twice the number of people to attend to all those little laws, then it would be different.”
Not waiting for the state to take action, Hanson said advocates like her are pushing for a Grand Forks city law to require bike helmets. She said she hopes the local law would take the same path the ban on texting and driving did, becoming state law a year after it became city law.
“It’s nice when there is consistency throughout the state rather than individual cities having their own,” she said.
TJ Jerke is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.