Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Seatbelts not only save lives --- they prevent tragedies

photo credit: AlamosaCountyPublicHealth via photopin cc
Everyone in the New York area has by now heard the tragic story of a young pregnant couple killed on their way to the hospital when their car was hit from the side by a hit-and-run driver (now identified as someone with an arrest record including recently driving under the influence of alcohol, but it's still unknown who was at fault.) The baby was delivered but sadly died because he was only 6 months gestation.  As tragic as this story is, the real tragedy is that the woman and possibly her husband and child might be alive today if they had been wearing seatbelts.

The couple was being driven in a 2008 Toyota Camry, a very safe car, but the woman was thrown from the car, meaning that she could not have been wearing a seatbelt.  The IIHS ratings for this car for a side impact give this car this highest rating for both passengers and drivers, and the driver walked away relatively unharmed.  Seatbelts reduce by half the risk of mortality from motor vehicle accidents, and certainly prevent passengers from being thrown from vehicles.

This couple was not alone in not wearing seatbelts in the backseat of a taxi, which is all-too-common behavior, although illegal in New York State.  Police are even allowed to stop cars for seatbelt non-use, but only drivers and front seat passengers can be ticketed.

A paper published last year in the journal Injury Prevention notes that the press often labels events as "freak accidents."  People mourn accidents, but journalists afraid of being seen as blaming the victims fail to communicate that many accidents could be prevented.   

Few accidents are truly freak accidents.  Many injuries, deaths, and tragedies can be prevented through sensible precautions, including wearing seatbelts.  There is no excuse not to wear a seatbelt, ever, even riding in a taxi.  New York State should expand its seatbelt laws to allow ticketing passengers.  If all passengers consistently wore seatbelts, we would have many fewer such tragedies. 

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