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Stranded motorists: Study finds links between injuries, deaths and risks

Ryan Farrell, Research Communications

When an emergency room treats a victim of a traffic accident, trauma teams will document the injuries and treatments, but not the causes. It’s impossible to tell from the data whether the victim was a stranded motorist who was hit by a vehicle.

“In an effort to fill this gap, data fields to identify additional circumstantial information were added into existing databases at a medical examiner’s office and two Level I trauma centers in the Houston metroplex,” said Stacy A. Drake, associate professor in forensic nursing at Texas A&M University College of Nursing. “In Harris County alone, incidents involving stranded motorists result in approximately two pedestrian freeway deaths per month, and roughly two individuals sustain injuries requiring Level 1 trauma care. Understanding the factors associated with these deaths helps support proactive, evidence-based initiatives in preventing freeway pedestrian deaths and serious injuries which ultimately will reduce emergency trauma visits and save lives.”

Over a five-year period, the partnering medical examiner’s office and trauma centers collected injury-related information noting whether the victim was a stranded motorist at the time of impact. Drake and her fellow research team analyzed the data to determine the risk factors associated with the injury patterns found.

“Of 219 instances reported, more than 77 percent of victims were outside a vehicle at the time of injury,” Drake said. “And nearly 25 percent of pedestrian victims sustained spinal injuries with 46 out of 54 succumbing to those injuries.”

The numbers are staggering, especially when considering these serious injuries and fatalities are often a direct result of secondary crashes where pedestrians remain on the freeway, outside a vehicle, and trust those passing by will not cross the solid white line.

The full research article, entitled “Fatal and non-fatal injury patterns of stranded motorists,” was recently published in the April 2021 issue of the Journal of Forensic Nursing, the official journal of the International Association of Forensic Nurses published in partnership with Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.