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Sunday, May 24, 2009
Driver Education: The Seat Belt Law
In 2007, 49 states and the District of Columbia had seat belt laws in effect; only 26 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia specified primary enforcement. Several states have passed primary enforcement laws since then; for example, Florida's law will become effective June 30, 2009. The new law, called the Dori Slosberg and Katie Marchetti Safety Belt Law, will allow law enforcement to pull over unbuckled drivers and issue tickets for as much as $120, depending on the county.
Some drivers feel primary enforcement seat belt laws are an infringement on their personal freedom, but it's important to realize that the cost of motor vehicle crashes, which increase when injury and death rates increase due to lack of seat belt use, is passed on to taxpayers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the economic cost of motor vehicle crashes in the United States in 2000 was $230.6 billion - $580 for every person in the US.
Obviously, the failure to wear safety belts does not directly impact every aspect of this total cost, but it can and does impact medical costs ($17 billion) and loss of productivity ($107 billion). The increase in injuries and deaths when seat belts aren't worn also increases costs for taxpayers in the form of an increased need for emergency and hospital personnel and disability and social security payments to the injured and deceased and to their dependents.
According to the NHTSA, research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For light-truck occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent.
Ejection from the vehicle is one of the most injurious events that can happen to a person in a crash. In fatal crashes in 2007, 76 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed. Seat belts are effective in preventing total ejections: only 1 percent of the occupants reported to have been using restraints were totally ejected, compared with 31 percent of the unrestrained occupants.
From 1975 through 2007, the NHTSA estimates that seat belts saved 241,789 passenger vehicle occupants age 5 and older, including 15,147 lives saved in 2007. If all passenger vehicle occupants over age four wore seat belts, 20,171 lives (that is, an additional 5,024) could have been saved in 2007.