study explores connection between e zpass lanes premature births

Expectant parents will often go to great lengths to ensure that they are fully prepared for the arrival of their little one. This can mean everything from preparing the nursery and planning the route to the hospital to taking childbirth classes and even making exact arrangements for the arrival date.

The reality, however, is that sometimes much of this planning is for naught, as babies can be born days, weeks or even months ahead of schedule. While many children born prematurely suffer no lasting health effects, others are not so fortunate. Indeed, everything from cerebral palsy and learning disabilities to hearing issues and vision problems are just a few of the serious and permanent conditions that can result from premature births.

Unfortunately, statistics from the March of Dimes show that premature births have jumped by 36 percent over the last 25 years, becoming the leading cause of newborn deaths here in the U.S. Furthermore, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that one out of every eight babies here in the U.S. are now born prematurely.

Interestingly, a pair of researchers from Columbia University recently completed a study in which they determined how a seemingly unconnected policy decision could actually serve to reduce the number of premature births.

The policy decision in question is the installation of E-ZPass lanes. E-ZPass lanes are freeway lanes installed in toll plazas that enable motorists to drive straight through rather than stopping by collecting tolls electronically from a small device mounted inside their cars.

The researchers — who studied E-ZPass tolling systems installed on roads in New Jersey and here in Pennsylvania — examined the birth records of nearly 30,000 babies born to mothers living within a two-kilometer distance of the toll plazas under study. They determined that as many as 275 low-weight births and 255 premature births were avoided, at a cost savings of more than $13 million.

Here, the theory seems to be that the E-ZPass lanes create less air pollution as cars don’t have to start and stop so frequently and that this, in turn, serves to lower the overall rate of premature births.

It is worth noting that while the CDC does not actually list air pollution as a known risk factor for premature birth, other research has intimated as much.

Indeed, the MacArthur Foundation, which commissioned the study as part of its “How Housing Matters” program, stated in its brief summarizing the research that limiting the exposure of pregnant women to air pollution from nearby roadways “could reduce preterm births by as many as 8,600 annually, for a cost savings of at least $444 million per year.”

While this study certainly raises some fascinating points, it’s important not to forget that the types of conditions attributable to premature births can also be brought on by medical malpractice.

For instance, cerebral palsy can be brought on by the failure of an OB/GYN to monitor the health of a baby during the delivery process or a pediatrician’s failure to diagnose a health issue during their child’s early development.

In these scenarios, it’s extremely important to consider speaking with an experienced legal professional dedicated to uncovering what went wrong and securing justice for your loved one.

Source: The Atlantic Cities, “How E-ZPass lanes could make premature births less common,” Sarah Goodyear, April 29, 2014

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