Unbelted Crash Victims Cost Virginians Millions

Virginia wanted to know the cost of injuries suffered by motorists who were not wearing seatbelts and what the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services found is that Medicaid costs for head and spinal cord injuries as a result of unbelted car crashes totaled $7.5 million in fiscal year 2002 for acute care costs only.

This means Virginians pay higher taxes, medical and auto insurance premiums and higher fees for emergency medical services as a result of the more than 2 million Virginians who do not wear seat belts. In addition, employers absorb added costs of lost productivity, health insurance and workers' compensation.

Nationally, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), workers involved in motor vehicle crashes lose an estimated $61 billion in wages and fringe benefits annually, and employers pay $31 billion in insurance costs annually for highway crashes. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that on-the-job crashes cost employers almost $22,000 per crash and $110,000 per injury.

"Our insurance premium has increased 110 percent, more than $250,000, yet our drivers have not had a major crash since 1999," said Suzanne Scalone, vice president of CXPress Trucking in Richmond, Va. "These costs affect our bottom line, and get passed on to the consumer in higher rates."

"When Virginians don't buckle up, we all suffer the consequences," said Sen. William C. Mims, sponsor of S.B. 1325, a primary seatbelt bill. "It is the responsibility of Virginia lawmakers to represent the best interests of the Commonwealth. The General Assembly should not ignore an opportunity to save countless lives and millions of dollars each year."

S.B. 1325, a primary enforcement seat belt bill that passed by a 24-16 vote in the Virginia Senate, would bring the state's seat belt law in line with every other traffic violation, allowing police officers to ticket a driver solely for not wearing a seat belt.

Primary seat belt laws have been shown to increase seat belt use 10 to 15 percent in the year following implementation, translating to millions of dollars saved in Virginia each year. The bill advances to the House Transportation Committee today, where a similar measure failed to pass after a tie vote last month.

"The nearly 30 percent of Virginians who choose not to buckle up are helping to deplete the state budget, forcing cuts to vital state programs," said Delegate Joe. T. May, sponsor of a House bill that was defeated in the Transportation Committee on a tie vote of 10-10. "I urge my fellow members of the House Transportation Committee to make primary enforcement the law."

Insurance companies frequently assume the financial burden of injuries requiring long-term treatment and care and pass the costs on to customers as higher premiums. 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 those who do not.

"We were left with $2.5 million in medical bills as a result of my son's three-and-a-half-year coma, paid mostly by the state of Virginia," said Patty French, co-chair of the Virginia Coalition for Child Safety.

French's son Greg was in an automobile crash a half-mile from home, his only visibly apparent injury a black eye. However, the impact, which might have been avoided had he been wearing a seatbelt, caused severe brain trauma and his eventual death. "Most Virginia families couldn't possibly afford these expenses on their own," said French. "A primary seat belt law would send a message to our youth to buckle up, preventing needless injuries and millions of dollars in medical bills."

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