A Great Cause Of Death: On Your Tab Essay, Research Paper
In my family, as in many peoples’ families, it has always been tradition to go to the mall on the day after Thanksgiving. The day is usually very predictable. We wake up, have breakfast, go to the mall, walk amongst the large crowds of people, indulge on free samples of chicken, pizza, and ice cream, and sign up for credit cards just to get the free gifts. At least that is what it is usually like. This day, however, was different. It was cold and rainy. My sister and I chose to ride with my aunt in her brand new Toyota Tercel to the mall. On the long ride from Williston to a mall in Gainesville we laughed, joked, and had a good old time – never knowing what was about to occur. As we began to make a left turn off the main highway and onto a side street, a large object slammed into the rear driver’s side of the vehicle. I ducked as glass began flying throughout the car. Then there was another slam; this time it was from the front passenger side. The car began moving sideways. It flew over the edge and landed in a ditch on the side of the road. We could not begin to imagine what had hit us. It felt like a train, but as we looked before us, we saw a giant log truck was flipped on its side in front of us. Logs from its load had severed the top portion of the truck’s cab. We got out of the car expecting the worst, but much to everyone’s amazement, there were no injuries, thanks to the proper use of seatbelts by the drivers and passengers of both vehicles. Thousands of incidents such as this have been cited, yet almost a third of the public do not wear seatbelts on a regular basis.
The first seatbelts were installed by automobile manufacturers in the 1950s, but seatbelt use was very low – only 10 to 15 percent nationwide. In the early 1980s, from 1984 through 1987, belt use increased from 14 percent to 42 percent, as a result of the passage of seatbelt use laws in 31 States. From 1990 through 1992, belt use increased from 49 percent to 62 percent due to a national effort of highly visible enforcement and public education. Today, the average belt use in the United States is 68 percent, with the highest average per state being California with 87 percent and the lowest being North Dakota with 43 percent. Still, this is not good enough. Especially when it is the leading cause of death for everyone between the ages of 5 and 27. According to the Florida department of Transportation, in its state alone, 2,811 people died in Motor Vehicle Accidents in 1997. They further stated that of those, over 1,150 were not restrained. Every 14 seconds someone in America is injured in a traffic crash; every 13 minutes someone is killed in a crash. “We cannot tolerate the loss of 40,000 lives on America’s highways” each year (NHTSA). These numbers have to be changed. “Motor vehicle crashes cost us [the American people] more than $150 billion a year” (NHTSA). That is approximately $414 million a day.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has put together a plan to accomplish this. Part of its plan includes creating new legislation, upgrading existing legislation, and inducing high visibility enforcement. In fact, 63 percent of people ages 16 and older strongly favor seatbelt laws that apply to front seat passengers and drivers and 23 percent somewhat favor them. About three-quarters of those who favor the front seat laws believe that they should apply to back seat adult passengers as well. As far as enforcement of these laws goes, they prefer small, minimum fines for a first offense, but many people favor more substantial fines for multiple offenders. Furthermore, while support for primary enforcement is higher in primary belt law states than in secondary belt law states, most people (52 percent) now support primary enforcement laws. Under “primary” enforcement, a citation can be written whenever a law enforcement officer observes an unbelted driver or passenger. Many states currently only have laws providing for “secondary” enforcement of seatbelt violations, requiring an officer to stop a violator for another infraction before issuing a citation for failure to buckle up. In the states with primary laws, the average seatbelt use rate was 15 percent higher than in states with secondary laws.
Because of the strong public support, to help promote the upgrading of state laws, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has created some sample statutes for states to adopt. The model seatbelt law includes provisions for primary enforcement, the use of seatbelts in all seating positions and by all occupants, adequate fine levels, and the assessment of driver points. The provisions included in the model were selected based on known evidence of their ability to increase belt use and belt law compliance. The model child passenger safety law includes coverage of children up to the age of 16 in all seating positions; requires car seats for children who are younger than four or less than 40 pounds, and seatbelts for older children. It makes the driver responsible for ensuring that children are properly restrained; bans passengers from the cargo areas of light trucks; includes out-of-state vehicles, drivers and children; assesses a reasonable fine; and eliminates all waivers and exemptions related to “attending to the personal needs of the child,” “exceeding the number of available belts in the vehicle,” etc. Florida already has primary seatbelt laws of which the fine for violating is $43.00 for violations by adults and children over five years of age and $77.00 for child restraint violations.
Another part of the NHTSA’s plan is the use of high visibility enforcement, a tactic which involves enforcement of seatbelt violations on busy roads and increased media support. High visibility enforcement is more effective because the perceived risk of receiving a seatbelt citation is increased even if the actual risk is only slightly higher. It was tested in Canada and has proved to work very well. Experience shows that the public will buckle up if they believe the police are enforcing the law. To assist in this, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has given out Special Traffic Enforcement grants to eighteen states. The States participating in the Special Traffic Enforcement Program (S.T.E.P.) in 1997 were Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Mississippi, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The S.T.E.P. program was designed to increase public awareness of seatbelt use, intensify seatbelt enforcement efforts, and make sure the public is aware of the intensified enforcement. Participating States conduct up to five enforcement “waves” over the grant period. Each “wave” consists of the following five components: seatbelt use survey (pre-wave), media campaign, media event announcing enforcement, intensified enforcement effort, and seatbelt survey (post-wave) and publicity. This creates a general perception within the State that there is an increased risk of being stopped for not wearing a seatbelt. This general perception can help increase seatbelt use across the entire state, even though the actual risk of arrest may be only slightly higher.
Not only are we creating legal deterrents to not wearing a seatbelt, but America is also using public education to fight the seatbelt war. The Crash Dummy characters have been used for years in television, radio, and magazine ads telling people to buckle up. The top excuses for not buckling up are that the driver was only traveling a short distance or that the seatbelt was uncomfortable. The fact is that 75 percent of the fatal traffic accidents occur within 25 miles of home. As far as being uncomfortable, the Florida Department of Transportation says to look at it this way; it is far more uncomfortable to be seriously injured. Besides being uncomfortable, people should think of how uncomfortable it will feel to be spending $138,000 on medical bills because their insurance companies will refuse to pay all of their medical bills since they were not properly restrained.
All in all, accidents cost the lives of too many people on today’s roadways; lives which could have been saved with the proper use of safety restraints. They cost the taxpayers over $414 million each day. In polls conducted the majority of the American people support the creation of new seatbelt laws, the upgrading of existing laws, and the enforcement of these laws. All of these things have led the NHTSA to create a plan that includes legislation, enforcement, and education. While all of this has encouraged Americans to buckle up and take responsibility for their child passengers, many people still do not use restraints 100% of the time. With their current plan, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration hopes to increase national seatbelt use to 85 percent by 2000. With a little luck and a lot of public support there should be no problem with accomplishing this.
Written By Lee Harrington (c) 1998
Buckle Up America – First Report To Congress. National Highway Transportation Administration. 7 Oct. 1998 .
1997 Florida Traffic Crash Summary Spreadsheets. Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. 7 Oct. 1998 .
What’s Your Excuse. Florida. Florida Department of Transportation, 1995.