Watch for Those Slippery Sidewalks
Snow and ice cause a substantial number of falls for pedestrians living in colder climates, said Dr. Jane Stutts, manager of epidemiological studies at the UNC center. Stutts recently completed a study of pedestrian and bicycle injuries reported at hospitals in Buffalo, N.Y.; Wilmington and Greenville, N.C.; and Modesto, Oxnard and Santa Barbara, Calif. Looking at emergency room data from three participating Buffalo hospitals, she found that nearly 27% of the patients admitted for pedestrian-related injuries between April 1995 and March 1996 were injured on icy surfaces -- especially parking lots or residential driveways.
A broken or dislocated hip can easily result from an older person's fall on hard ice, said Dan Manz, immediate past president of the National Association of State Emergency Medical Service Directors, a partnership member.
"Falls for an older person are actually a substantial problem for a couple of reasons," he said. "One problem is that when an older person falls, it frequently results in an injury that immobilizes the person in bed for an extended period of time and often results in secondary problems like pneumonia. Secondly, older people have other health problems like osteoporosis and other kinds of degenerative bone problems that can make them more prone to fractures when they do fall."
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Falls should be a real concern for older people, Manz said. "They need to be careful about their choice of where to walk and when to walk. And it would also be good if sidewalks would be kept clear of snow and slick ice."
Last winter, 72-year-old Dr. Herman Tyroler had to walk in an icy road to run his daily errands. It was either that or wade through the enormous snow drift the town plow had dumped onto the sidewalks while clearing the streets of his neighborhood."There was a period of about 10 days when I was forced to walk out in the roadway," said Tyroler, a retired epidemiology professor who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. "Moving vehicles were close by and the roads themselves were iced. I was concerned about my own stability walking on the icy roads but I was equally concerned about cars coming along with that residual ice on the road.
Southern cities like Chapel Hill rarely receive ice or snow. But people living in areas with lots of winter weather often face hazardous walking conditions. Many northern cities don't have laws on sidewalk snow clearance. That's true in Newton, Mass., where 66-year-old AnnaMaria Abernathy lives."Newton used to have an ordinance that said it was the homeowner's responsibility to and they didn't want the liability of it. They said it put the liability on the homeowner if someone slipped on the walk in front of their home."
Often pedestrian access to sidewalks is limited during snowy winter months. Clearing roads for cars is easier, and can occur a the expense of pedestrian spaces.
"Forcing a pedestrian into a snow-covered street exposes them not only to the danger of tripping or being injured on an icy street, but also falling in front of a car that may be passing only a few feet away," said Charles Zegeer, associate director of roadway studies at the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center in Chap