The Road Warrior
12:32 AM EST, January 21, 2013
Q: At the Pennsylvania Farm Show the other week, while picking up my complimentary state map, I also grabbed a flier about the PA Yellow Dot Program. Seems like a decent idea, but I've never seen a yellow dot on a car. Is this a new program? What's your opinion of it?
Also, some friends of mine were driving down to the shore a while ago when a digital sign informed them about a 'silver alert.' This was a new one to all of us. Have you heard of this before?
— Jack Helffrich, Upper Macungie Township
A: I haven't yet seen a yellow dot on the rear window of a vehicle either, or at least I haven't noticed one.
The "yellow dot" program, designed to alert first responders to any special medical needs or requirements of victims at highway accident scenes, would appear to be a valuable safety asset for users. Though it's likely to be utilized fairly infrequently, it could prove vital in those instances.
Basically, a form with information including a participating driver or passenger's medical conditions, recent surgeries, allergies, current medications and emergency-contract information is kept in the glove compartment of the vehicle. The accident victim's regular physician also can be included, though that category seems less time-sensitive than the others. You can also include a preference for a specific hospital, though for obvious reasons the form cautions, "transport to preferred hospital not guaranteed."
A small yellow circle or "dot" decal is placed at the lower left corner of the rear window to alert ambulance personnel to the potential for special needs, and the folder in which the materials are kept is color-coded, matching the yellow of the dot.
Connecticut got the program off the starting line in 2002, and it's been spreading across the country, with Gov. Tom Corbett turning the key on our state's version only about 10 weeks ago.
Though I have yet to see my first yellow dot, statewide interest in the free program administered by PennDOT has exceeded expectations, according to spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt. The first order of 50,000 application kits has been exhausted, and PennDOT awaits the next order of the same size.
The fact that 50,000 kits have been distributed doesn't necessarily mean every decal has yet been applied to its rear window, which might help account for the apparent dearth of yellow dots on Lehigh Valley vehicles. Or maybe the dots have been catching on faster in other regions.
Some people would seem to benefit from the program more than others. Those susceptible to significant, even life-threatening, allergic reactions would be wise to consider pasting a yellow dot to their rear window, for example, while younger, healthier people might tend to be less concerned.
Motorists can sign up for the program online, and kits are — or were — available at locations including PennDOT driver centers and Area Agency on Aging offices, though supplies may be depleted.
Cetronia Ambulance Corps CEO Larry Weirsch heartily endorsed the yellow dot program, which he said mirrors the "in case of emergency" or ICE dot program adopted by Cetronia last February (icedot.org). The free programs are very similar and should not cause confusion or be seen as competitors, Weirsch said. The yellow "dots" of the two programs are nearly identical, though each has its corresponding lettering around the border. In addition to the free offering, the ICE program offers related safety services and products with fees attached.
Though Weirsch knew of no instances in which the programs have been used at accident scenes by Cetronia personnel so far, he said the potential for improved outcomes is great. "Simple, yet effective," he said. "It makes such good sense." It makes good sense to me, too.
Lt. Robert Kozlowsky of the Shelton, Conn., police department, where the yellow dot program originated, said he is unaware of any specific incident that sparked its development. According to the department website, it was created jointly as a public service by the police, the Shelton Senior Center and People's Bank.
A companion model that hit the showroom floor at the same time, the Emergency Contact Information program, allows licensed motorists or those with PennDOT-issued IDs to plug contact details into a secure database accessible only to law-enforcement officials, for use in cases of illness or injury unrelated to motor-vehicle accidents. That has drawn nearly 5,500 participants, according to Waters-Trasatt.
Turning to silver alerts, they map a course similar to Amber alerts, but the destination is slightly different: helping to find not missing children under 18 years of age, but rather older people, likely much older, possibly suffering from Alzheimer's disease or other impairments.
Pennsylvania put its program into gear in early 2011, but with a twist: Our law detours the "silver alert" nomenclature adopted by some other states and specifies no particular age limit. One version of the Pennsylvania legislation that had been considered proposed that those 65 or older be eligible for the alerts, but the age minimum and related details were removed as the bill made its way down the road.
Instead, the Missing Endangered Person Advisory System was created as an amendment to the existing Amber alert law, the provisions of which are administered by state police. MEPAS alerts apply to "missing persons who are at special risk of harm or injury" of any age.
It seems Harrisburg took the right road regarding the age issue. A 64-year-old with Alzheimer's can be just as lost, and equally at risk, as someone a year or more further along. Still, it's likely that most MEPAS subjects will be older models.
According to data at nationalsilveralert.org, some states specify age categories that vary from state to state, while others impose no age qualifications.
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