Island tops state in vehicle deaths


By CHELSEA JENSEN

Stephens Media

Vehicle, motorcycle and pedestrian crashes, drownings and suicides are claiming Big Island lives at a rate higher than the rest of the state, according to a report released Tuesday.

Hawaii County had nearly one-third of the 290 motor vehicle fatalities in the state in the last five years, giving the island a state-leading 55.6 deaths per 100,000 persons, according to the state Department of Health’s Injuries in Hawaii 2007-2011 report. Kauai County had the next highest per capita death rate at 54.5 followed by Maui County with 32.6 and Honolulu City and County with 12.3.

The 4,028-square-mile island also held the highest per capita death rate for motorcycle crashes (19.2 for every 100,000 persons), pedestrian crashes (11.4), drownings (19) and suicides (98.6), according to the report.

Dan Galanis, the report’s author and an epidemiologist with the Department of Health’s Injury Prevention Program, said the neighbor islands, historically, have seen more dismal rates than the main population center of Honolulu, which accounts for about 70 percent of the state’s total population. He speculated the disparity could be attributed to a variety of reasons including, among many others, undivided roadways, lack of available services and support, social stigmas and emergency response times.

“Rural-living populations seem to have higher rates for a lot of the outcomes,” said Galanis about a variety of unintentional and intentional injuries the report studied among Hawaii residents.

The report provides a detailed summary of injuries, both fatal and nonfatal, that occurred during the five-year period. Included are unintended injuries such as crashes involving motor vehicles pedestrians and bicycles, drownings, falls, poisonings and suffocations; and intentional injuries like suicides, homicides and assaults.

Galanis said the injury report is just one of the steps toward preventing injuries. With the information included in the 200-page plus report, state agencies and community groups can narrow down what is causing injuries to better promote prevention efforts.

During the five-year period, Hawaii Island saw no bicycle fatalities during the study period; had the lowest per capita death rate for poisonings; and recorded too few suffocations and homicides to develop a per capita death rate, according to the study.

However, the island marked the second-highest per capita death rate from falls at 29.9, second to Oahu’s 35.9 per 100,000 people, the report found.

Falls resulted in 541 deaths and were the most common type of fatal unintentional injury between 2007 and 2011 in the state. Some 48 percent, or 57 of the 118 fatalities from falls on the neighbor islands, occurred on Hawaii Island, according to the report.

Nearly 80 percent of the fall victims were 65 or older, and 70 percent were at least 75 years old, according to the report. When looking at all ages killed in falls, men outnumbered women, however, there was parity in the statistics among senior-aged victims.

Linda Rosen, Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention chair, hopes the data, information and analyses gets people to think about injuries and their impact on overall public health.

“We need to look at this as a public health problem,” she said. “One of the goals is to get people to understand the burden of injury and not to think of it as an accident — we want people to think about how they can prevent injuries.”

Released in conjunction with the injury report was the department’s Hawaii Injury Prevention Plan 2012-17 providing recommendations for preventing the leading causes of injury. The plan was developed by the department’s Injury Prevention Advisory Committee and other state, county and federal partners.

The plan makes Hawaii-specific recommendations for drowning, falls, poisoning, suicide, traffic safety, and abuse and domestic violence prevention.

“Injuries are a public health issue that the entire community needs to be concerned about,” said Bruce McEwan, Injury Prevention Advisory Committee chairman.

To view both reports, as well as a variety of other reports and information, visit hawaii.gov/health/healthy-lifestyles/injury-prevention/index.html.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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