What is traffic medicine?

What is traffic medicine? Members of the International Traffic Medicine Association and readers of the Journal of Traffic Medicine are often asked this question. Beyond curiosity, questioners may have practical interests, such as whether their paper is appropriate for JTM, or whether their professional interests fall within the scope of ITMA.

Each of us likely has a favorite definition of traffic medicine, though I expect our answers vary depending on the questioner, circumstances, time available for response, and our inclination at the moment. I have responded to the question on many occasions, but feel the time has now come to address it more formally.

The term traffic medicine has evolved to embrace all those disciplines, techniques, and methods aimed at reducing the harm traffic crashes inflict on human beings. While the vast majority of harm results from road vehicles, traffic medicine also includes injuries from all vehicles traveling over land, sea, and air, and under-water and in space. The trauma surgeon treating the victim of a crash, the people transporting the victim from the crash site to medical treatment, those in the system dispatching help to the crash site are all involved in traffic medicine. The automotive engineer working to improve vehicle crashworthiness, develop better safety belts, brakes, or lights is practicing traffic medicine; likewise, the roadway engineer designing safer roads, or the traffic engineer developing safer traffic control systems. Those advocating, developing, administering and enforcing traffic safety policy are all involved in traffic medicine. Researchers discovering more about the biomechanics and epidemiology of traffic crashes, the backgrounds and mental states of crash-involved drivers, or developing new surgical procedures to treat crash injuries are all involved in traffic medicine. Those involved in training and educating drivers or others, such as pedestrians or passengers, participating in transportation systems are likewise involved in traffic medicine. Educators in the areas described earlier are also practicing traffic medicine.

The above is not intended to be a complete list of what is encompassed by traffic medicine. It is meant to convey how wide is the array of activities that have been used to address the enormous harm from traffic crashes. Despite the efforts of so many devoted professionals, traffic injuries constitute a world-wide public health problem of staggering magnitude. As motorization continues to grow the number of traffic deaths, now about a million per year world wide, continues to grow rapidly. This underlines the urgent need for an expanding and cohesive traffic medicine, and for a strong organization to coordinate its efforts.

The term traffic medicine has been in use for over 40 years. It figured prominently in the name of our organization, the International Association for Accident and Traffic Medicine (IAATM), founded in 1960 in San Remo, Italy. With the renaming in 2000 of IAATM as the International Traffic Medicine Association (ITMA), traffic medicine occupied an even larger portion and more prominent role in the organization’s name.

Pre-dating traffic medicine is the term automotive medicine, given formal status with the formation in 1957 of the American Association for Automotive Medicine (AAAM), renamed the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine in 1987. Automotive medicine has traditionally denoted a somewhat greater focus on vehicles than has traffic medicine. The difference is no more than one of emphasis. Both terms have evolved to include all factors relevant to traffic safety.

Simply stated, traffic medicine includes all those activities aimed at reducing harm from traffic crashes. The goal of ITMA is to reduce harm from traffic crashes. The goal of the JTM is to publish material that contributes to reducing harm from traffic crashes.

Leonard Evans
Past President, ITMA

Rev. 15-Oct-2000