PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With the holidays approaching, Rhode Island’s trauma doctors are urging drivers to practice safe road habits.

Dr. Stephanie Lueckel is the Section Chief of Trauma in Rhode Island Hospital’s Division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care.

She says the trauma center has seen as many as 150 patients involved in a car crash per month in the first ten months of this year.

“It’s crazy. It’s a lot,” Lueckel said. “Everybody’s under an inordinate amount of stress, certainly during the pandemic, and then we’re approaching the holidays with some restrictions, and I think it’s taken it’s toll on people.”

Dr. Lueckel says this is significant, since there has been work and travel restrictions for much of the year, meaning fewer cars on the road.

“We have seen a little bit of an uptick in our numbers in our MVCs,” Lueckel said.

“I think the roadways were a little bit empty for a while there, almost about a year ago, eight months ago when the pandemic really hit us, and people were off the roads, and we were not seeing as many traumas,” she said. “But the ones we were seeing were impressive, because there weren’t people on the roads, and people were taking that as free range to sort of, maybe drive a bit more recklessly.”

Additionally, Lueckel says the severity of the accidents, especially in recent weeks, has been tough.

The morning after Halloween, Rhode Island State Police responded to three fatal incidents
within twenty minutes
on Route 95.

Two days prior to those crashes, the R.I. Police Chiefs’ Association (RIPCA) addressed a “significant rise” in roadway deaths. Officials said several factors contributed to the spike in roadway fatalities, including impaired and distracted driving, reckless driving, and lack of seat belt usage.

Dr. Lueckel says when looking more closely at accidents, she’s found an uptick in impaired driving for accidents that have come through Rhode Island Hospital’s trauma division. The percentage of impaired drivers, she says, is up from 31% to 35%.

“So, whether that’s drugs or alcohol, we’ve seen that up about four, five percent this year, as compared to last year, which is a little frustrating,” Lueckel said.

Dr. Lueckel says one of the hardest adjustments she and other healthcare workers have had to make is how they communicate with families and loved ones.

Earlier this month, Lifespan hospitals temporarily suspended all visitation.

In March, the hospital group first announced that patient visitation was suspended at all of its hospitals, but in August, the group lifted some visitation restrictions by allowing patients to have one visitor at a time.

“Not in person, not over the patient, not next to the patient. Having to deliver bad news, devastating news, without the families at the bedside has been… emotional, not just for the families involved, but for the providers,” Lueckel said. “Nobody wants to be sick and alone. No one wants to be dying and alone, and yet, we’re faced with that a little bit.”

“It’s almost difficult to talk about, seeing sick and injured patients who can’t be surrounded by the people who care about them the most. It’s terrible,” Lueckel said.

With this in mind, she and other doctors are hoping drivers keep in mind basic safe driving habits, like wearing a seat belt, designating a driver, not being distracted while driving and not driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol.

“Now, these are all things that I think most people know, it’s just taking it the next step to make sure that you always do it,” Lueckel said.

“These things sound annoying, or you don’t feel like dealing with it. But, it is way better than ending up in the Intensive Care Unit, or in the operating room in a hospital were you can’t see your loved ones for a month,” Luckel said.

Dr. Lueckel and others also want to remind Rhode Islanders about the ongoing need for blood donations.

“As we go into the holidays, we sort of always see a dip in donation and usually an uptick in needing blood,” Lueckel said.

“But there are patients out there who get blood transfusions for other reasons, and that never stops, whether that’s a chemotherapy patient, or what. So, that never stops as the year ticks on,” Lueckel said. “It will never be a waste, ever.”