N.H. Motorists Could Save if State Adopts Seat Belt Law

April 18, 2007

A mandatory seatbelt law could do more than save drivers’ lives. It could save them money.

When House lawmakers recently passed a seatbelt bill, supporters emphasized that buckling up would save lives. But the issue also has financial ramifications, and not just because changing the law would net the state $3.7 million in federal funding.

Though mandating seat-belt use probably would not reduce car insurance premiums immediately, it may contribute to a decrease over time, according to the insurance industry. It could also save the state millions of dollars a year in medical care, lost productivity and other costs associated with motor-vehicle deaths and injuries that result from the failure to buckle up, according to seat-belt supporters.

With a seat-belt usage rate of 63.5 percent, New Hampshire tied Wyoming for lowest in the nation last year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency. A mandatory seat-belt law, coupled with education, could increase that rate to more than 80 percent, according to Seat Belts for All, a coalition of state lawmakers, health officials and law-enforcement leaders.

That would spare the state an average of 14 deaths, 335 serious injuries and roughly $75 million in related costs each year, the group estimates.

During the House debate, opponents described the bill as a blow to personal liberty and said the failure to wear seat belts only affects those who choose not to wear them, not the wider public. They also said New Hampshire already enjoys relatively low auto-insurance rates.

New Hampshire’s average auto insurance policy was $798 in 2004, compared to $698 in Vermont and $650 in Maine.

Doug Nadeau, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance, said a seatbelt law in New Hampshire would not reduce those rates immediately but could bring a decrease over time, just as safety improvements to vehicles — such as air bags and crumple zones — have kept rates in check.

“All those safety features translate to driving down your insurance rates,” he said. “It doesn’t happen instantly.”

David Snyder, an automotive insurance expert with the American Insurance Association, also said a mandatory seat-belt law could reduce rates, because it would reduce the number of accident-related injury claims and the severity of those claims.

In New Hampshire, auto accidents generally lead to much more expensive injuries than they do nationwide. The average injury claim in New Hampshire is more than $15,000, compared with a national average of about $10,500, said Snyder.

“While there may be many reasons for that, one of the things you would hope that seat-belt legislation would do would be to reduce the severity of injuries,” Snyder said. “And then in some cases, wearing a seat belt would prevent any injury at all. And we think, among all the highway safety measures, it’s by far the most important thing any state can do.”

Expensive accidents can increase health insurance costs for an accident-victim’s colleagues, Nadeau said. When employees are grouped in an insurance pool, the presence of expensive claims can lead to higher premiums across the board, he said.


Information from: Concord Monitor, http://www.cmonitor.com

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