AIA: Maryland Needs to Tighten Belt Law

March 11, 2005

The American Insurance Association (AIA) recently testified before the Maryland House Economic Matters Committee in support of Senate Bill 560, which calls for mandatory use of seat belts by rear seat passengers.

AIA testified that while Maryland’s safety belt use law is good, the improvements that would result from Senate Bill 560 should have a significant positive effect on fatalities, serious injuries and their related costs paid by Maryland’s families and businesses.

“According to national studies, 56 percent of all passengers killed in motor vehicle crashes were unbelted. Also, average medical treatment costs for unbelted patients were 55 percent higher,” said David Snyder, AIA vice president and assistant general counsel. “Thus, the lack of belt use generally results in more fatalities and much higher medical costs for those who survive.”

Obviously, exposure to death and serious injury as the result of a serious motor vehicle crash is not limited to front seat passengers.

However, a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that, even though the national seat belt usage rate for front seat occupants is about 80 percent, it is only 47 percent in the rear seat. Safety belt use by rear seat occupants is critically important; the same NHTSA study found that rear seat belts effectively reduce back seat fatalities in all crashes by 44 percent, and by 77 percent in rollover crashes.

“Seat belts improve safety because they keep people from being ejected – or partially ejected – from the vehicle. They also allow people to decelerate more slowly, lowering the crash forces on their body; in addition, belts protect occupants from striking hard surfaces or other people in the vehicle,” explained Snyder. “When a passenger is unbelted, he jeopardizes not only himself but other vehicle occupants.”

“A change in the Maryland seat belt law so that it would apply to rear passengers would likely increase their belt use. This would be particularly true if the law is made subject to primary enforcement, meaning that police can writer up a citation for lack of belt use even in the absence of another infraction,” said Snyder. “Increasing belt use by rear seat motor vehicle occupants will decrease fatalities, serious injuries and their related costs. This would be a tremendous victory for crash victims, their families, their employers, Maryland taxpayers and insurance consumers.”

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