MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- As more than 100 million Americans prepare to hit the road for the busy year-end holiday travel period, a local hospital has seen a significant increase in the number of trauma cases resulting from vehicle crashes -- reflecting an unfortunate trend seen across the nation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's estimates that 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes nationwide in the first half of 2021, up more than 18% from 2020.
Additionally, the pandemic year of 2020 -- with much less driving due to lockdowns -- saw a 7% fatality increase from the last "normal" year of 2019.
"There has been a significant increase in bad driving during the pandemic," said Robert Sinclair, Jr., of AAA Northeast. "Less traffic during lockdowns led to speeding, impaired driving, and distracted driving, with seatbelt use abandoned by many, which has, unfortunately, continued despite more cars on the road, and the busiest holiday travel period on the horizon."
Long Island data from 2011 to 2020 and preliminary data for this year show that unsafe speed is the primary cause of fatal crashes, with 41 related fatalities so far in 2021 in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
NYU Langone Hospital in Mineola, Long Island's Level 1 Trauma Center, has seen the aftermath of some these crashes, treating an unprecedented increase in trauma-related injuries from car crashes over the last few months.
"We urge drivers to proceed with caution over the holidays when the risks of motor vehicle crashes rise exponentially," said Dr. D'Andrea Joseph, chief of Trauma and Acute Critical Care. "We have been seeing a significant rise in car crash traumas in recent months, with patients experiencing complex multi-system injuries including traumatic brain injury and life-threatening pelvic and thoracic injuries."
Among those patients was 19-year-old Randy Suero, who was returning from a late-night gym workout with a carload of friends when their vehicle crashed on the Southern State Parkway near Hempstead.
Fatigue was believed to be a major factor.
Suero was pulled from the wreckage by one of his friends, but he suffered facial, rib, and femur fractures, lung contusions, and more, and spent weeks in the hospital.
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Now, he has a message for drivers this holiday season.
"Take your time," he said. "There's no reason to rush, as you're going to get to your destination. If you go too fast, you're putting your lives in danger. Not just yours, but innocent people trying to get to their families and work."
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