A round, bright yellow decal on a car's rear window can mean the difference between life or death.

Immediately after a car crash, emergency responders have what is known as "the golden hour," the time when medical care is most crucial. But all too often, the victim of a car crash is unable to communicate important information, such as his emergency contact, medical background or special needs.

The Yellow Dot program, offered free of charge, provides a yellow dot decal to be placed on the rear window. That alerts responders that there is a bright yellow folder in the glove box. The folder contains the driver's and/or passengers' emergency contact, medical contact and medical information.

"The Yellow Dot Program is an effective and inexpensive tool to keep drivers safe. The program makes particular sense for a state like Pennsylvania with its large percentage of older drivers," said Jonathan Adkins, Deputy Executive Director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Pennsylvania has the third-largest percentage of residents older than 65 in the United States, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

The Yellow Dot program, which went into effect in November, is a cooperative effort among the state departments of Transportation, and Health and Aging; the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission; state First Responders, and local law enforcement.

"The program concepts were brought to our staff by state representatives, and the Yellow Dot program is active in nearly 20 states from what we could find. The programs can help anyone," said PennDOT Deputy Press Secretary Erin Waters-Trasatt.

She said that since the program's inception on Nov. 9, PennDOT has received more than 2,300 requests for Yellow Dot folders. the agency has also seen almost 3,000 registrations for a corresponding initiative called the Emergency Contact Information program.

How it works

Upon receiving a Yellow Dot kit, the person fills out the included form with his/her name, emergency contact information, medical history, the names and doses of any medications he or she is taking, any allergies, and the person's doctor's contact information.

Also, a photo of the person, only from the shoulders up, which is to be taped to the front of the completed form. Additional forms and photos may be included in the folder, which is to be kept in the glove box.

The packet includes a yellow dot decal, which is to be placed in the lower left corner of the person's vehicle's rear window, no higher than three inches from the bottom of the window.

The Yellow Dot kits can be gotten through local Area Agencies on Aging; regional EMS or county health centers, or through any one of PennDOT's driver's license centers.

A National Movement

Yellow Dot programs are in place in many states, spurred by the growing wave of Baby Boomers and the elderly, who tend to have more extensive medical histories than younger folks. the first yellow Dot program began in Connecticut in 2002. Variations of the program are now in place in at least 22 states, including Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, New York, West Virginia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, and Minnesota.

In Pennsylvania, the program is a plus if people use it, said PennDOT Community Relations Coordinator Jan T. McKnight.

"PennDOT is happy to have made these two programs available for Pennsylvanians. Our hope now is that people take a few minutes to participate in these free programs that could one day save their lives," she said.

Anne Horrigan of Carbon County's Area Agency on Aging, said the program is important, especially for older people.

"A lot of times, you can find yourself in an accident, where you may not be able to communicate. You may be unconscious, and with a lot of medical conditions people have, it's good to have a back up," she said.

Horrigan said that it's good for first responders to know if a victim has had bypass surgery, knee or hip replacement or any other major medical procedure. The Yellow Dot form also includes a space where the person can designate a preferred hospital.

"It's actually a protection for seniors," she said. "You can never be too safe when you're out on the road. I think it gives peace of mind knowing that, in the event of an accident, that they are covered."

Horrigan said her agency received 50 kits, which she parceled to to the county's five senior centers. They were so popular she has ordered an additional 200 kits.

"It was well received by the seniors," she said. "They're very interested in this."