Hitting the road Memorial Day Weekend? Read this first.

The long Memorial Day Weekend marks the start of summer travel season. In fact,  AAA predicts that 39 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more this weekend — the most people since 2005. A strong economy and still-affordable gas prices are among the reasons.

The downside of all that travel, of course, is the risk of injury and death on our highways — particularly for those who fail to properly secure themselves and their families in cars. The Texas Department of Transportation is putting out the word through its Click It or Ticket campaign that seat belt laws will be enforced.

Dr. Brian Eastridge, trauma medical director at University Hospital and professor of surgery at UT Health San Antonio, knows firsthand the consequences of driving unbuckled.

More than 42 percent of the 1,162 adults treated at University Hospital’s Level I trauma center for serious injuries from car crashes in 2015 weren’t wearing seat belts. Of the 244 children injured in crashes that year, at least 47 percent weren’t properly secured.

The injuries can be devastating, Dr. Eastridge said.

“When you’re not wearing your seat belt, the energy from the crash can cause you to basically collide with the inside of the vehicle multiple times,” he said. “Whereas if you’re restrained by your seat belt…not only does your seat belt dissipate the energy, but also the airbag is able to work effectively and minimize injury.”

Serious head injuries, spinal injuries and life-threatening bleeding are the main consequences.

“The most catastrophic injuries we see are traumatic brain injuries. Ejected from a vehicle at a high rate of speed, hitting the pavement or a guardrail or a tree, they can sustain some very serious brain injuries,” Dr. Eastridge said.

It’s especially important for adults to make sure children are properly secured in the correct type of seat and restraint. The recommendations are:

  • Children younger than 2 years of age should use a rear-facing car seat.
  • Toddlers and young kids should use a forward-facing car seat with a five-point harness if they are older than age 2 and have outgrown the height and weight limits for a rear-facing seat.
  • Older kids should use a booster seat if they are below 4 feet, 9 inches tall and have outgrown the weight and height limits of the car seat.
  • Children are ready for seat belts if their knees bend naturally at the end of their seat. The lap belt should ride low across their hips, and the shoulder belt be positioned at their mid-sternum or mid-clavicle.

University Health System’s Injury Prevention Program has more information on children’s safety, including the proper installation and use of car seats.

Dr. Eastridge’s interview with WOAI TV’s Ashlei King about Memorial Day Weekend safety can be seen here.