APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin discusses road safety, health disparities; Pew Research Center study shows large percentage of Americans go online for personal health; and a look at the emergency departments battling the historic flu season. These stories highlight public health news for Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013.

USA Today — Group: Strong road-safety laws are lagging in states
Nearly a decade of declining road deaths has created complacency among state lawmakers, whose failure to enact stronger highway-safety laws leaves motorists at peril now that traffic fatalities are rising again. That’s according to Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a non-profit group that grades the states annually on how well they are implementing a set of 15 laws governing everything from seat-belt use to drunken and distracted driving and teen driving safety. In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released preliminary data showing that road deaths in the first nine months of 2012 rose 7.1% over the same period in 2011 — the largest year-over-year jump for that period since 1975. “We’ve all become sort of complacent in putting new laws on the books because highway deaths were going down,” said Jacqueline Gillan, president of Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “I think this is a real wake-up call.” A decade of dropping highway fatalities — coupled with an anti-government mood in many state capitals — might have led state legislators to conclude that there was no more work to be done, says Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Great Falls Tribune — Minority health gap not easy to remedy
Public health experts have known about health disparities that afflict racial and ethnic minorities more than their white counterparts for years. There have been repeated calls to end them and countless millions spent on research aimed at reducing them. But a deadline for eliminating disparities by 2010 has come and gone. And black men still get prostate cancer at three times the rate of whites, three black babies die before their first birthday for every white baby, and black children are twice as likely to be hospitalized because of asthma.

ABC — 35 percent of Americans self diagnose on the Internet
A new survey by the Pew Research Center out of Washington D.C. reveals how many people are turning to the Internet rather than a doctor to diagnose medical issues and illnesses. According to the survey, 35 percent of adults in the U.S. say they have used the Internet in an attempt to diagnose their medical condition. The survey results, published in USA Today on Tuesday, showed that people are using information they find online to determine whether or not to consult a doctor. About one-third of those surveyed ended up handling their medical problem on their own. Not everyone is relying on sites like WebMD though. In a separate survey, 70 percent of respondents said when it came to a serious condition, they went to the doctor.

Kaiser Health News — Emergency departments are on the frontline of the flu
What does it feel like to be working in an emergency department during this nasty flu season? Every day feels like Monday. Monday is usually the busiest day of the week in the ER. “Now instead of having a Monday peak,” said Dr. Bill Frohna, who runs the emergency department at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., “it’s seven days a week of a Monday.” Though it is still too soon to say whether this is a historically bad flu season or just a bad flu season, one thing is clear: Emergency rooms around the country are filled with a feverish throng that is much larger than last year. Washington Hospital Center had just 20 patients test positive for flu all of last year’s season. This season, as of Monday, there were already 179 cases positive for flu.