Char-Koosta News

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Seat belts and car and health insurance

By Lailani Upham

A road sign set up entering and leaving East Glacier National Park by the Montana Department of Transportation reminds drivers the statistics of deaths last year due to no seatbelts. In 2012 there were 205 vehicle deaths reported; 75 percent were unbuckled. (Lailani Upham photo) A road sign set up entering and leaving East Glacier National Park by the Montana Department of Transportation reminds drivers the statistics of deaths last year due to no seatbelts. In 2012 there were 205 vehicle deaths reported; 75 percent were unbuckled. (Lailani Upham photo)

POLSON — Not only can a person be injured or become a fatality from not wearing a seatbelt, but also car insurance is void if you are not wearing a seat belt and healthcare costs can be substantial.

It only takes a few seconds to click and save a life or a hefty hospital bill.

Vehicle insurance companies want to pay as little as they can in compensation for injuries. If a person is not wearing a seat belt in an accident, an insurance company will seek to reduce the amount of money it has to pay under a legal principle known as “comparative negligence.”

Insurance companies will argue if a person were wearing a seat belt the injuries would have been far less serious.

According to statistics, insurance companies are right.

Even if it was the other driver’s fault, it is still the sole responsibility of both drivers to wear seat belts — including all their passengers.

Not only does wearing a seat belt save lives – it saves money.

Some insurance companies will raise premiums if a seat belt is not use after an accident or even cited for not using a seat belt.

Highway patrol officials are trained to examine if a driver or passenger is wearing a seat belt.

It is not easy to fib to the MHP; there are several factors that are looked at to prove if a seat belt was in use.

One way of checking if a seat belt is worn during an accident is the friction during the lock up will actually melt some of the belt materials causing the belt to have a stretched out, wavy loose appearance. It is caused by the belt heating up quickly and stretching out during the emergency locking during a collision.

According to the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center report in 2009, “Seat Belt Use and Health Care Costs in Montana,” a yearly estimated 887 unbelted individuals are hospitalized for care. An estimated 819 admissions might have been prevented if a seat belt had been used.

The report goes on to state that Montana patients costs over $36.7 million each year in direct inpatient health care costs.

On average an unbelted occupant had a longer stay of two days and accrued a significantly higher hospital charge of $52,993 relative to the average belted occupant that paid $36,420.

Uninsured or Medicaid covered unbelted occupants cost the state of Montana over $14 million a year for hospital care of a preventable injury situation.

The excess health care costs for injured unbelted occupants meant that each driver in Montana pays an extra $51 to subsidize unbelted occupants, reads the Harborview report.

Unbelted occupants are more likely to have their hospital costs paid from federal or state sources.

According to Montana Department of Motor Vehicle safety, Drivers and passengers who are hurt or killed in a motor vehicle crash because they were ejected, partially ejected, or thrown around inside a vehicle from not being buckled up create a tremendous financial burden on Montana citizens. Research shows that on average, those injured pay for only 26 percent of the total healthcare costs. The remaining amount is paid for by society through higher insurance rates and public assistance programs funded with tax revenue. On average, Montana spends $14 million dollars in Medicaid and uncompensated care for unrestrained motor vehicle occupant inpatient hospital charges.

Diana Schwab, Lake County Health Department Tobacco Prevention and Buckle Up Program Coordinator stated in a letter to the editor to local newspapers on June 25, that with a record of 11 crash fatalities in Montana for that weekend she said she was compelled to speak out on seat belt use.

Schwab stated that from January 1 to June 17 of 2013 there had been already 79 fatalities – of those, 59 were not wearing seat belts.

“When surveying drivers about seat belt use I have found that most drivers know they should buckle up or that it is the law to buckle up, but choose not to buckle up because ‘It’s inconvenient.’ A large number of drivers report buckling up on the interstate but not in town. Even at slow speeds a person can be seriously injured in a car crash if they are not wearing a seat belt,” Schwab said.

Schwab explained the math factor on the force of a crash; “To find the amount of force needed to stop your body during a crash we use the following formula (Weight X Speed= Force). If you weigh a120 pounds and are traveling at 30 miles per hour, 3600 pounds of force will be needed to stop your body from moving forward. (120 X 30 =3600). To put that in to perspective, a midsize sedan weighs about 3600 pounds. The human body is physically incapable of protecting itself from these kinds of forces.”

Schwab says seat belts and airbags are designed to help our bodies “ride down” crash forces.

“Seat belts keep us in the ‘safety cage’ of the vehicle, which is the part of the vehicle that was designed to protect occupants in a crash,” she explained.

Airbags work with the seat belt to help slow your body down and are not intended to be used as a stand-alone safety device she added.

Schwab encourages drivers and passengers, “Why take a chance? Buckle up, every trip, every time.”

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