Why Yellow Dots Are Popping Up Across Alabama

Lora Weaver of the Northeast Alabama Traffic Safety Office points to a yellow dot inside an Autauga County school bus. Lora Weaver of the Northeast Alabama Traffic Safety Office points to a yellow dot inside an Autauga County school bus. Alabama Yellow Dot/Facebook

When drivers get into serious car accident, it can sometimes be hard to relay pertinent medical history to paramedics, especially if they’re unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate.

But an expanding Alabama program has made it easier for emergency responders in the Yellowhammer State to know if a patient has an allergy or medical condition like diabetes that could impact on-the-spot treatment.

It’s all dependent on a yellow dot sticker that program participants put in their driver’s-side rear window, which signals paramedics that a packet of critical information is located in the glove compartment.

That packet includes details about medications, allergies, recent surgeries, health conditions plus emergency contact information and an identifying photo. (Because of information security concerns, the packet does not contain dates of birth, Social Security numbers or driver’s license numbers.)

This week, 150 school bus drivers in one Alabama county signed up for the Yellow Dot Program.

“Anything we can do to ensure our employees’ safety, we’re going to do it,” Autagua County Superintendent Spence Agee said in a new Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs video about the program.

“And to have the opportunity to be the first county in the state that offers this for bus drivers, I’m excited about it,” Agee said, adding that officials have plans to expand the program to other employees, including the maintenance personnel and teachers. “This program has unlimited potential.”

Alabama’s program launched in 2009 and was inspired by a smaller program geared toward older drivers in Shelton, Connecticut. But any driver can participate.

According to Alabama Living magazine:

Lora Weaver, who heads up the program for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADEC) Highway Safety Office, heard about the Yellow Dot program and helped secure a small grant to get it started.  Other agencies including sheriff’s departments, police departments, Alabama Emergency Management Agency, rescue squads, fire departments and others became interested and an initiative began to go statewide.

Alabama’s Yellow Dot program caught the attention of officials in Pennsylvania, who launched a similar program in November 2012 that targeted older drivers.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday, the state is continuing to promote the program, but there are concerns that some paramedics don’t know what the yellow dots mean:

Since the program began, over 210,000 Yellow Dot packets have been disbursed.

But telephone calls to a few local police and emergency response centers in the area revealed that few knew about it. Of those contacted, only officials with Hampton EMS Inc., an entity separate from the township, were familiar with the program.

“We are contracted with the Pennsylvania Turnpike, so we became familiar with the program through an email that we received from them,” James Kline, CEO of Hampton EMS, said.

Mr. Kline said he wasn’t aware of anyone from his EMS coming upon an accident involving a vehicle displaying a yellow dot, but his employees know what to expect if they do.

There are Yellow Dot programs in other states, but Alabama’s initiative is considered the most effective in the nation and has been honored by the Governor's Highway Safety Association. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, 66 of Alabama’s 67 counties are currently participating.

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