Traffic injuries are not an uncommon incident in this country. For decades, statistics have shown that its occurrence have greatly affected the lives of Americans. Through actual physical assessment on accidents and research experiments, had brought the conclusion that a number of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented by the mere use of a safety belt.
Had the same number of deaths and injuries that traffic accidents have claimed, occurred because of a virus or disease, almost all citizens would predictably clamour for an immediate solution. Although one of the highest preventive measures is at everyone’s fingertips, it is a wonder that many oppose its legislation. Others who are not in the habit of using safety belts simply fail to see it as already offending the law.
It is a wonder that a small device, called a seat belt had roused a dilemma of national magnitude and acquired an enormous cost on the nation’s budget.
II. Effect on Health Care Costs
The figure on the problem of vehicular accidents in America is fast becoming an epidemic. Its effects are far reaching — the loss of lives and the incalculable grief it brings to the families who had lost a loved one. Through the use of government funds, it is a problem that invades the life of every American as each one puts up with paying for healthcare costs through taxes, which is roughly estimated to reach as much as $580 a year per person. Such expenses can easily double through a simple negligence or mere resistance to a small device — a seatbelt. Non-usage has infringed billions of dollars on the nation’s budget due to emergency personnel, hospitalization bills and insurance costs.
There are various government agencies that play a crucial role whenever traffic accidents occur. Primary expenses are caused by medical attention as well as law enforcement personnel who are the first to respond and attend to victims. Government agencies such as Medicaid or Medicare shoulder as much as more than 24% of hospitalization bills. However, these same agencies can have a drastic amount saved according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that could reach as far as $275 million annually if there is a 17% increase in seatbelt usage.
Although there are many vehicular accidents, such occurrences are not accidental but are determined by unsafe acts combined with an unsafe situation. Given such factors, much of these accidents then, can be avoided. But records show that traffic injuries are one of the highest causes that had claimed the lives of people, whose age-range falls between 1 to 42 years old. Strictly speaking of costs, the high incidence of death is just the smallest portion of the problem,.
But it is rather the costs of hospitalization and other medical care that government agencies need to disburse more funds. One for every four people in America can possibly be hurt enough to require medical attention; this alone demands about 48% of the total medical professional services. It is therefore not surprising that a big slice of healthcare expenses is poured into the process of treatment.
Calculating the costs, it is estimated that 41,000 lives had been lost to traffic accidents for every year. It ranks only third to cancer and heart attack on the causes of death for Americans. The United States have suffered economic damage for a total of as much as $150 billion on traffic injuries. These include healthcare costs, which incurs about $17 billion, as well as the loss of productivity amounting to $54.7 billion.
However, this huge expense and loss can easily be reduced, according to NHSTA if every vehicular passenger is made safe by a seatbelt while on the road.
III. Issue on the Validity of Seat Belt Safety
Despite the strong campaign on the safety of seat belt usage, it does not altogether provide a foolproof solution in preventing injuries. Instead of saving lives, there had been cases that prove otherwise. Some victims of vehicular accidents had actually been aggravated by wearing seat belts. The intense impact causes the head to suddenly move forward from the body, thus could likely cause paralysis due to neck injuries. The elderly are also more prone to risks of heart attack and could be severely hurt, unable to free themselves from being tied by the seat belt and get immediate help (Smith, 2005).
IV. Dispute Towards the Law of Seatbelt Use
Traffic laws which take in consideration of putting in force the use of seatbelts among motorists, vary from every state. Traffic enforcers of the District of Columbia are allowed to issue tickets on motorists due to their “primary enforcement law” of using seatbelts. In comparison, other States only have a “secondary enforcement law” where other violations are charged first on the motorists before they can be cited for not using their seatbelt. Since 2006, there are about 24 States that started to exercise primary laws such as California, Georgia, and New York, while 25 States still employs secondary laws. The State of New Hampshire applies such law only to minors (Glassbrenner & Ye, 2006).
Despite campaigns on the benefits of using seatbelts, a number of people oppose its legislation on the grounds that it is a violation of individual freedom. For those who contest the validity of such a law, the imposition of seatbelt laws is an encroachment to one’s privacy and individual differences on one’s standard of safety.
They charge legislators of using seatbelt laws as a means of enriching the coffers of government agencies through $25 fine for every person who breaks the rule. They further argue that while campaign ads bloat the healthcare cost of traffic injuries due to non-use of seatbelts, such campaigns had cost millions of dollars on the national budget as well (Holdorf, 2002). A survey that compared the number of accidents before and after the passage of seatbelt regulation on 8 States showed no significant difference (“Traffic Deaths Roll on Despite Seatbelt Law”, 1996).
But for strong believers of seatbelt use, its legislation is not an issue of personal freedom but one of personal and social responsibility. It accuses those in opposition as the problem for the slow legislation of seatbelt use as a primary law for all States. It also cites the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a traffic enforcer who justly or unjustly stops a motorist is not tantamount to breaking the Fourth Amendment.
While both sides of the argument have strong points to be considered, it is understandable that looking after the security of every citizen is the business of every respectable government. While there are many failures on wearing seatbelts, studies should focus on improving its system and not leaving it entirely on personal preference. A law is never passed based on partiality but on what is beneficial for all. It is a matter between safety and comfort.