Auto Theft-Related Trauma

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Abstract

Objective

To determine the medical consequences and economic impact of caring for patients injured after motor vehicle crashes (MVC) involving stolen cars.

Methods

Presented is a case series of inpatients injured secondary to a MVC involving a stolen car from January of 1993 to December of 1994 and treated at a university Level I trauma center in Newark, New Jersey. During the time period of the study, 1,232 patients (either as the driver or passenger) were admitted after a MVC, 115 patients (8%) were identified as sustaining injuries secondary to a MVC involving a stolen car. Injuries after car theft represent 8% of all MVC-related admissions. Data collected included demographics, types of injuries, surgical intensive care unit and hospital lengths of stay, insurance status, hospital and physician charges, and ultimate outcome.

Results

Of the 84 men and 31 women, 66 were perpetrators, either as the driver (34) or passenger (32) of a stolen vehicle. Perpetrators were significantly younger and more likely to be male than victims. The overall mortality was 11%. An additional nine fatalities occurred at the scene of a MVC linked to a patient in this study. A high rate of speed and the presence of police pursuit seemed to be related to the severity of the crashes. The mean charges (hospital and physician) were over $34,000 per patient, and the aggregate charges for this cohort were greater than $3.6 million. Fifty-four percent of patients were uninsured.

Conclusion

Injuries involving stolen cars are common in areas in which the activity has a high prevalence and can compose a significant percentage of a trauma center's MVC population. These data run contrary to the popular belief that auto theft is merely a crime against property, because the injuries sustained as a result of this criminal activity tended to be severe and were associated with a high fatality rate. Restricting police pursuit to only those instances in which other felonious activity is suspected may decrease the number of stolen car MVC. Additionally, the total amount of uncompensated care that these patients receive places another financial burden on limited health care and trauma center resources, which ultimately effects all other citizens.

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