Studies Show Car Crashes Worse in Rural Areas

Times Staff Writer

Contradicting the rationale behind recent changes in speed limits that permit a 65 m.p.h. maximum on non-urban superhighways, two motor vehicle crash studies have found that isolated rural roadways have the most dismal injury and fatality rates.

According to one research team, whose findings were reported last week, rural counties outstrip large, populous areas in terms of motor-vehicle death toll by factors of several hundred to one. Esmeralda County in Nevada, for instance, had the equivalent death rate of 558 people killed per 100,000 population while Loving County, Tex., had an equivalent rate of 1,456.

This contrasted with New York City (2.5 deaths per 100,000) and Philadelphia, Pa. (4.1). The study, published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, was conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It came several weeks after a Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. evaluation of regional motor vehicle fatality differences found the safest regions of the country to be the South-Central and Mid-Atlantic states and the most dangerous the Mountain and West South-Central states.

High in New Mexico, Wyoming

The highest annual death rates for motor vehicle crashes were recorded, Metropolitan Life found, in New Mexico (80.8 deaths per 100,000 for all age groups), Wyoming (85.9), Arizona (60.6), Montana (61.2) and Nevada (66). Statewide in Wyoming, more than 134 of every 100,000 young men 15 to 24 died in car crashes. California's rate was 51.1 for all men. Rhode Island had the lowest rate--25.7.

While small populations and possibly poor local conditions on rural streets and highways might explain some of the difference, both of the new studies found remarkable consistency among comparatively unpopulated counties and states. The Johns Hopkins study was the first ever to look at fatalities on a county-by-county basis.

"Ironically, the current impetus for raising the 55-m.p.h. speed limit comes primarily from states in the West," the Johns Hopkins team concluded, "where fatality rates on rural interstate highways are more than twice the national rate." Observed Metropolitan Life researchers: "The high social and financial costs to society from motor vehicle accidents demand even more stringent public programs to curb this preventable form of suffering."

Lefties and Preemies

Extremely premature babies weighing a pound or less at birth--whose survival is becoming increasingly common--have been found to have at least one quirk that will remain with them all of their lives: At least one study found they were left-handed more than half the time.

It's too early to determine if this oddity among premature births--the overall rate of left-handedness is 8% to 10%--will influence the caliber of major-league pitching. But a team of doctors in Australia and Boston has found that in a study group of 115 babies treated in a neonatal intensive care unit, 54% of extreme preemies were left-handed.

Two theories have been advanced to explain the distinction: left-handedness is caused by slight brain damage sustained during the extremely early birth or that very premature infants do not complete a process of brain development that results in the vast majority of full-term infants being right-handed. In the journal Lancet, the researchers, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the University of Queensland in Australia, speculated that shortened brain development is the most likely cause.

Rating Jogging Bras

In the era of high-tech fitness and steadily growing interest in recreational sports among women, it was probably inevitable that someone would conduct a sophisticated test of leading brands of jogging bras. A research team at Utah State University has accomplished this objective, finding the Exercise Sports Top and Lady Duke bra brands to be the best performers.

The researchers devised a testing model in which 59 women jogged on a treadmill at a carefully controlled 6 m.p.h. while precise monitoring equipment measured vertical motion and other characteristics of their breasts. Eight different bra brands were evaluated for their ability to prevent breast discomfort and injury during exercise. The bras ranged in price from $7.50 to $29.95.

But the researchers emphasized that many variables can affect the comfort of a jog bra. They suggested in the journal Physician and Sports Medicine that large-breasted women select bras more rigidly constructed than small-breasted women, who may find stretchy bras satisfactory.

The researchers also cautioned that bra straps must be adjusted differently for sports that require frequent extension of the arms. Sports that emphasize leg use, on the other hand, lend themselves to firm straps that do not stretch. A protective pad that fits inside the bra cup may be a good precaution for women participating in contact sports, the team concluded, and physically active women should look for bras that do not have fasteners or seams that rub the skin.

Smoking on the Job

A growing trend toward banning smoking in the workplace has received new impetus from the American Medical Assn. and two of the nation's most influential newspapers.

Workplace smoking restrictions, which first became prevalent in the Seattle area, where banks, telephone companies and the Boeing aircraft firm have instituted various forms of tobacco prohibition, have begun to spread across the country. Within the last few weeks, there have been these developments:

-- In Chicago, the AMA, which had previously banned smoking at all of its meetings and conventions, said it began Monday to prohibit smoking by all of its nearly 1,000 employees in many common areas of the association's headquarters. Next January, AMA workers will no longer be able to smoke in any work area, except private offices, with all tobacco use to be banned by January of 1990. The AMA has also called for a federal government ban on tobacco advertising. Legislation to enact the restrictions are pending in Congress.

-- The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have also instituted or announced extensive smoking restrictions--following the lead of at least four other major newspapers. The Los Angeles Times will ban smoking in all workspaces--but permit it in several specially designated smoking lounges--starting July 1. The New York Times instituted a similar, but slightly less restrictive policy, on May 11. Occupants of private offices at that newspaper may still smoke. Both papers have announced plans to offer partial reimbursement for employees who want to quit and seek treatment to do so.

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