How often do we hear, "It's nobody's business but my own, if I don't wear my seat belt."? How many of us believe the decision to wear or not to wear a safety belt is a personal matter that has no impact on anyone else?
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is our business because the decision of others not to buckle up hits us all right in the pocket book. The people who do the right thing and wear seat belts are paying for those who don't -- particularly since many people injured while not wearing a safety belt have inadequate insurance or none at all.
Think about this -- the inpatient hospital costs to treat an unbelted crash victim are at least 50 percent or higher than those for belted victims. And society pays 85 percent of those costs -- not the individual drivers involved. (See Note 1)
We all pay for:
- more emergency medical services
- more medical treatment and rehabilitation
- higher health care and automobile insurance premiums
- higher taxes to fund emergency and other medical services
- increased health insurance costs
- higher worker compensation costs
- lost work time and productivity
THE BOTTOM LINE
Costs to the Public
Americans are paying $14.3 billion per year in injury-related costs for people who don't wear seat belts. On average, those injured pay for less than 30 percent of these total costs. The remaining 70 percent - $10.1 billion, is paid for by society through higher automobile and health insurance rates and through public assistance programs funded with federal and state tax revenues. (See Note 2)
By increasing seat belt use from the current 68 percent to 90 percent, we would save $356 million a year in Medicare and Medicaid costs alone.(See Note 3)
It is estimated that each driver who buckles up is paying an additional auto insurance premium of $40 per year to cover the costs of the drivers who don't buckle up.(See Note 4)
Costs to Employers
One-third of the $55 billion resulted from off-the-job injuries to workers and their dependents.
On-the-job motor vehicle crashes cost employers almost $22,000 per crash and $110,000 per injury.(See Note 5)
Costs to Our Children
Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children, taking the lives of more than 2,100 child passengers ages 0 to15 and seriously injuring 327,000 more each year.(See Note 6)
In 1996, almost 60 percent of the children ages 15 and under who died in motor vehicle crashes were unrestrained.(See Note 7)
Adults who don't buckle up often put children at risk as well since they frequently don't ensure their child passengers are buckled up. Plus, because children mirror adult behavior, these adults send children a deadly message that it is all right not to wear a seat belt. Research shows that if a driver is unbuckled in a crash, 70 percent of the time children riding in that vehicle are unbuckled as well. Conversely, when a driver is buckled, 94 percent of the time children riding in that vehicle are buckled.(See Note 8)
Today, despite intensive public education efforts over the past several decades, national seat belt use stands at only 68 percent. The only proven methods to increase seat belt use from current levels are to pass more primary or "standard" laws and enforce them in a highly visible manner. These standard laws allow police to stop and ticket a driver who is not belted just like any other routine traffic violation, such as having a broken tail light.
According to a survey by Public Opinion Strategies, Americans support standard seat belt laws by nearly a two to one margin. Currently, only 17 states and the District of Columbia have standard enforcement belt laws.(See Note 9)
In addition, more states must work to close current gaps in child passenger safety laws. These gaps leave children of certain ages unprotected while riding in vehicles.
The personal and financial benefits to buckling up are concrete. If the nation reaches its goals of 90 percent belt use and a 25 percent reduction in child fatalities by the year 2005, we would prevent more than 5,500 deaths and 132,000 injuries annually and save $8.8 billion annually.(See Note 10) The bottom line is we will save lives and dollars if more people buckle up. It's a goal worth achieving.
(1) NHTSA, National Center for Statistics and Analysis.
(2) NHTSA, Office of Plans and Policy.
(3) Presidential Initiative for Increasing Seat Belt Use Nationwide. (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, April 1997), p. 2.
(4) Personal communication with Ted Miller, National Public Services Research Institute, November 6, 1997.
(5) Total Costs to employers by State and Industry. (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, December 1996), pp.1-7.
(6) NHTSA, National Center for Statistics and Analysis.
(7) NHTSA, National Center for Statistics and Analysis.
(8) Ford Motor Company. Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc. 1997 Report No. 971550.
(9) Public Opinion Strategies, 9/97.
(10) Presidential Initiative for Increasing Seat Belt Use Nationwide. (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, April 1997), p.9.