Statement of Tara A. Gill, Director of State Programs,
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety,
Lisa A. Patterson MD, FACS, New Hampshire State Chair,
American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, and
Stacey Savage, President,
New Hampshire Emergency Nurses Association
In Support of House Bill 1259
House Transportation Committee
New Hampshire General Court
February 6, 2018
Good afternoon, my name is Tara Gill and I am the Director of State Programs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). Advocates is a coalition of consumer, safety, public health and medical groups, and insurance companies and organizations working together to pass highway and auto safety laws that prevent unnecessary crashes, deaths and injuries and contain associated costs. I am submitting this statement jointly with Lisa Patterson, New Hampshire State Chair, American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma, and Stacey Savage, President of the New Hampshire Emergency Nurses Association. The American College of Surgeons is the largest scientific and educational organization of surgeons worldwide. Founded in 1913, it seeks to raise the standards of surgical practice and improve the quality of care for all surgical patients. The Emergency Nurses Association is the premier professional nursing association dedicated to defining the future of emergency nursing through advocacy, education, research, innovation, and leadership. Our organizations support House Bill (HB) 1259, legislation to enact a primary enforcement seat belt law requiring all occupants in all seating positions to buckle up in New Hampshire. This lifesaving bill will help address the epidemic of motor vehicle crash fatalities, injuries and associated costs, and improve the safety of New Hampshire families and all those who travel on state roads.
In 2016, traffic fatalities claimed the lives of 136 people on New Hampshire roads, the largest number of lives lost since 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Lack of seat belt use is a major contributing factor to fatal crashes in the state. In 2016, 74 percent of motor vehicle fatalities (69 fatalities) were unbelted when restraint use was known (NHTSA). The observed seat belt rate in 2016 was merely 70 percent, marking New Hampshire as the state with the lowest seat belt use rate in the nation. Insufficient seat belt use is a serious public health and safety issue in urgent need of the solution that HB 1259 provides.
Seat belts not only save lives and prevent lifelong debilitating injuries, they also save taxpayer dollars. Motor vehicle crashes cost New Hampshire nearly $1.4 billion annually (NHTSA). Unbelted crash victims have medical bills that are 55 percent higher than belted victims, and society bears a majority of the cost through increased insurance premiums, taxes, and health care costs (NHTSA). These costs essentially result in a “crash tax” of $1,043 for every New Hampshire resident.[i]
In fatal crashes 81 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed (NHTSA). Only one percent of the occupants reported to have been using restraints were totally ejected, compared with 30 percent of unrestrained occupants. Further, the proportion of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants killed that were seated in the front seat was 47 percent, compared to 57 percent of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants killed that were seated in the rear seat (NHTSA). This is why it is critically important a seat belt law covers both front and rear seat passengers.
Unbelted rear seat passengers pose a serious threat to the driver and other vehicle occupants. Known as “back seat bullets,” unbelted rear seat passengers can be thrust at high rates of speed into other occupants, causing fatalities and serious injuries, as well as loss of control of the vehicle. “The odds of death for a belted driver seated directly in front of an unrestrained passenger in a serious head-on crash was 2.27 times higher than if seated in front of a restrained passenger.”[ii] Seat belt use in the rear seat is especially critical as the safety infrastructure built into the vehicle is not as developed in the rear seat as it is in the front seat.[iii]
Furthermore, the majority of passengers in the rear seats of vehicles are teens and children, and studies have shown that seat belt usage by teens and young adults (age 16 – 24) is among one of the lowest segments of society. A poll released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that nearly 40 percent of people surveyed said they sometimes don’t buckle up in the rear seat because there is no law requiring it. If such a law existed, 60 percent of poll respondents said it would convince them to do so.[iv] Enacting a primary enforcement seat belt law for all occupants will send a strong message that everyone needs to buckle up on every trip.
Primary enforcement, which permits police officers to stop and ticket the driver for a violation of the seat belt law, is an essential provision in an optimal seat belt law. Primary enforcement is consistent with other regular traffic safety laws in that no other violation need occur first. These laws permit police officers to do their job without being encumbered by a requirement to witness an additional violation. States with primary enforcement laws have higher seat belt use rates. When primary laws are passed, seat belt use rates increase from 10 to 15 percentage points as experienced in a number of states. Moreover, a study conducted by IIHS found that when states strengthen their laws from secondary to primary enforcement, driver death rates decline by an estimated seven percent. If every state with a secondary seat belt law upgraded to primary enforcement, about 1,000 lives and $4 billion in crash costs could be saved every year, according to NHTSA.
Seat belts saved the lives of 29 people on New Hampshire’s roads in 2016, and yet 22 more people could have been saved by 100 percent seat belt use (NHTSA). We urge you to support this commonsense legislation to save lives, prevent injuries, and curb the spending of taxpayer dollars.
[i] Calculation based on the Census Bureau 2010 population count of 1.317 million in New Hampshire and 2010 economic crash costs for New Hampshire estimated at $1.374 billion (NHTSA).
[ii] Mayrose, James, Influence of the Unbelted Rear-seat Passenger on Driver Mortality: ‘‘The Backseat Bullet”, Academic Emergency Medicine, Volume 12, Issue 2. Article first published online: 28 June 2008.
[iii] Sahraei at al. Reduced Protection for Belted Occupants in Rear Seats Relative to Front Seats of New Model Year Vehicles, Proc AAAM, 2010.
[iv] Status Report, Unbelted, Vol. 52 No. 5, “Adults admit they often skip belts in rear seats”, IIHS. August 3, 2017.