John Tongue learned the benefits of seat belts as a high school student in 1963 when he was hit broadside by another vehicle while driving a compact car. Tongue's car rolled over upon impact. He was told by a police officer at the scene of the accident that his seat belt saved his life.
Twenty years later, Dr. John Tongue, now an orthopaedic surgeon in Oregon, became a tenacious advocate for transportation safety issues and affected major change among the three main causes of traffic injuries and fatalities: 1) lack of safety belt use, 2) drunk driving and 3) excessive speed.
Each year, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) acknowledges an orthopaedic surgeon who has gone to extraordinary lengths to make a positive impact on the lives and health of many people with the Humanitarian Award. AAOS President Vernon T. Tolo, MD, presented John R. Tongue, MD, with this year's Humanitarian Award during opening ceremonies of the Academy's 70th Annual Meeting. In recognition of Dr. Tongue's commitment to transportation safety in Oregon, AAOS will donate $5,000 to the Oregon Transportation Safety Division.
Tongue founded the Oregon Lifebelt Committee in 1983 in order to create and pass a mandatory seat belt law. In spite of six defeats in the Oregon legislature and a loss at the polls, Tongue's six years of tireless campaigning paid off in November 1990 when over 600,000 Oregonians passed the only state safety belt law by a vote of its people. Tongue was able to make this law reality by developing a volunteer base of 2,000 volunteers, gathering 80,000 signatures (8,000 of which he collected himself) and raising over $500,000 in funds. At the 10th anniversary of the law in December 2000, the Oregon Department of Transportation stated that over 1,500 lives have been saved and over 270,000 Oregonians spared from injuries as a result of the seat belt law.
"When I began working on transportation issues in 1983, Oregon's seat belt use rate was 19 percent," said Dr. Tongue. "Now it's 91 percent. We have the strongest law in the nation."
Tongue also founded Pledge America, a nonprofit organization committed to educating civic organizations in the Northwest about the dangers of drunk driving and enlisting their audiences to make a pledge not to drink and drive. As an active member of the Governor's Advisory Committee on driving under the influence of intoxicants (1982-1995), Tongue helped pass 14 new drunk driving laws. The reduction in the rate of drunk driving and fatal crashes in Oregon is estimated to be between 20 and 30 percent. Oregon is also the only Western state not to raise rural interstate speed limits, in part due to Tongue's vigorous opposition of increased speed limits as chair of the Oregon Transportation Committee. "What makes Dr. Tongue notable as a true humanitarian is that his unstinting commitment of time, energy and enormous expertise has demonstrably reduced traffic-related morbidity and mortality in Oregon by literally thousands more than any five orthopaedic surgeons could hope to achieve in long careers in the operating room," said James A. Kronenberg, associate executive director of the Oregon Medical Association.
The 26,047-member American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (www.aaos.org) or (http://orthoinfo.aaos.org ), is a not-for-profit organization that provides education programs for orthopaedic surgeons, allied health professionals and the public. An advocate for improved patient care, the Academy is participating in the Bone and Joint Decade (http://www.usbjd.org ), the global initiative in the years 2002-2011 to raise awareness of musculoskeletal health, stimulate research and improve people's quality of life. President Bush has declared the years 2002-2011 National Bone and Joint Decade in support of these objectives. The Academy's Annual Meeting is being held February 5-9, 2003, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, La.