Investigating Daylight Savings: The data on springing forward and falling back

Metric_clockThe vast majority of U.S. residents shifted their clocks back to standard time last weekend, effectively “gaining” an hour of time on Sunday. In my house, it meant that my early-rising daughter was up at 4:30 a.m.
instead of 5:30 a.m.! [Read more…]

What we know about kids and car seats

car seatCar seat technology has certainly come a long way in the past three decades. I have clear memories sitting in the front seat of my mom’s car (and playing with the radio buttons!) at age five — a practice that is now against the law in most states. [Read more…]

The evidence on self-braking cars

automatic brakingI’ve always imagined a futuristic world where cars could drive themselves, leaving people to read, work or watch movies during their commutes. It turns out we’re getting closer to that day, one step at a time. [Read more…]

The science of avoiding jet lag, revisited

passenger-jet-120This week, my family is headed to England to visit my in-laws. So once again, I find myself searching for the latest proven methods for coping with jet lag. [Read more…]

Should kids wear seat belts on the school bus?

school busThe town where I live – Ithaca, NY – had six inches of snowfall this week during a school day. The snow storm prompted a vigorous debate among a group of moms about whether children should wear safety belts on school buses. [Read more…]

Does video surveillance deter crime?

video cameraPark your car. Walk into a store. Ride the subway. During all of these activities, it’s very likely that you are being recorded on video. In the western world, closed-circuit television or CCTV is used in the vast majority of public places to help prevent crime. [Read more…]

The evidence on hands-free cell phone devices while driving

Whether it’s a quick call to ask what’s needed from the grocery store or catching up with a long-distance friend – people everywhere talk on cell phones while they’re driving. [Read more…]

What we know about car seats and how kids use them

We have known for a long time that car seats save children’s lives. But even with that knowledge, do parents and caregivers use them appropriately?

A new study by researchers at University of Michigan found that while most people use child restraints properly, many do not. The researchers analyzed data on more than 21,000 children observed in cars at gas stations, fast-food restaurants, recreation centers and child care centers from 2007 to 2009 using guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

They found 21  percent of children ages 4 and younger were not following the recommendations for sitting in car seats. Thirty-three percent of 4- and 5-year olds and 66 percent of 6- and 7-year-olds were not following the recommendations for using car seats or booster seats. And – the most precarious finding – 11 percent of children were not wearing seat belts or sitting in car seats at all. Children were especially likely to be completely unrestrained if they were driving with an adult who wasn’t wearing a seat belt or if there were four or more children in the car.

While the evidence on kids using car seats is not encouraging, there are some intervention programs proven to increase the use of child safety seats. One systematic review found strong evidence that child safety seat laws increase the use of safety seats. Programs that combine education with distribution of car seats, incentives for installing car seats correctly and stepped up enforcement of laws also increase the use of car seats.

The bottom line: Car seats help save kids lives. It’s important to use them as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Real evidence linking taxes and death

With U.S. income taxes due today, there will surely be banter around water coolers across the country on the subject of taxes, including a myriad of jokes about paying Uncle Sam.

“If my business gets much worse, I won’t have to lie on my next tax return.”

“When it comes to taxes, there are two types of people. There are those that get it done early, also known as psychopaths, and then the rest of us.”

“Drive carefully. Uncle Sam needs every taxpayer he can get.”

It turns out, there’s actually something to that last one.

A study in the most recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed data on fatal road crashes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from the past 30 years. The study found there are consistently more fatal car crashes on Tax Day each year, compared with other days. On average there are 13 more deaths – approximately a 6 percent increase – compared with other days.

What is going on?  The study authors speculate that added stress of a deadline could lead to more distracted driving, or that people could be consuming more alcohol on tax day.  Whatever the reason, they suggest a public health campaign to remind people to drive carefully on Tax Day.

Drive safely today!

New evidence: Marijuana and driving don’t mix

We’ve all heard the warnings about drinking and driving, but what about driving while under the influence of other substances?

A new study published this week in the British Medical Journal found that drivers who use marijuana up to three hours before driving are twice as likely to cause a traffic accidence compared to those not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

While it may seems obvious that driving under the influence of any substance would lead to more accidents, this is the first systematic review to gather all of the evidence on traffic accidents and marijuana use.

“To our knowledge this meta-analysis is the first to examine the association between acute cannabis use and the risk of motor vehicle collisions in real life,” the researchers wrote.

The study reviewed nine studies of nearly 50,000 across the globe involved collisions on public roads. It found the increased risk was most pronounced in studies of fatal collisions, and that the impact of acute cannabis consumption on the risk of minor crashes remains unclear.

This type of review adds to the body of evidence that ultimately helps policy-makers understand public health threats. In this case, it seems clear that lawmakers and public health officials need to do more to help the public understand the dangers of driving while under the influence of marijuana.

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