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It's Everyone's Problem

The motor vehicle injury problem affects all Americans. The cost of personal pain and suffering, the loss of a loved one, and serious injury to a family member cannot be measured. Every person in America also bears the economic costs of motor vehicle crashes — on average, $580 a year. These include the costs of the emergency response providers, higher medical and insurance costs, and lost productivity. When individuals don't wear seat belts, these costs increase considerably because the injuries are more serious.

Because government at all levels pays some of the costs of traffic injuries, government at all levels shares the responsibility to reduce traffic injuries and costs. Publicly funded health programs and other public services, such as law enforcement and emergency medical services, are greatly impacted whenever someone is injured in a motor vehicle crash. According to a 1996 NHTSA study of 10 states, 24 percent of inpatient hospital costs are paid by Medicare, Medicaid, and other government sources. NHTSA estimates that if seat belt usage rates for front seat passengers in automobiles and light trucks were to increase from the present 68 percent to 85 percent, Medicare and Medicaid would save $275 million a year. With a 90 percent use rate, the savings would total $356 million a year!

Business also incurs enormous costs from traffic crashes through lost productivity and higher insurance and medical costs. On-the-job crashes cost employers almost $22,000 per crash and $110,000 per injury. Traffic crashes on- and off-the- job cost American business an estimated $55 billion in 1994. It pays for business to participate in solving this problem.

The health care industry shares in the economic burden produced by traffic injuries. Many health care costs of traffic injuries are either not reimbursed or are paid with taxpayer dollars.

Moreover, on average, hospital charges for an unbelted driver admitted as an inpatient exceed the inpatient hospital charges of a belted driver by $5,000.

Insurance premiums reflect part of the problem. When a person is injured in a motor vehicle crash, private insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, the injured person, or the victim's family pays. When the person is not properly restrained, everyone pays more. 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. If an insurance company is not involved, or if the coverage is insufficient, eventually some treatment costs are paid with taxpayer dollars.

Preventing needless injuries and deaths requires a commitment to traffic safety at all levels of government — local, state 1 , and Federal. It also requires the support of partners in private industry, citizen groups, and nonprofit organizations. Most important, this problem requires individuals to take personal responsibility for their own and their family's safety by making certain that everyone is properly buckled up, every time, on every trip.


1 References in this report to "states" apply to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Indian Nations, and the United States Territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.