Research Proves Using Seat Belts Cuts Hospital Bills

Evidence of the importance of wearing a seat belt while in a moving vehicle is not a recent discovery; many studies have been conducted to compare the hospital costs for victims of crashes that wore seat belts against those who did not wear them.   In 2001, the National Safety Council revealed that the average inpatient costs for crash victims not wearing seat belts were 50% higher than victims who were wearing seat belts during the accident.

In 2002, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that the deaths and injuries that result from not wearing a seat belt cost an estimated $26 billion annually in medical care, lost productivity and other related costs.

Recently, the Minnesota Seat Belt Coalition has been conducting its own research to determine how the use of seat belts impacts the cost of health care. Using Minnesota vehicle crash records from 2002, the group has discovered that hospital costs for unrestrained crash victims were 94% higher than hospital costs for those using seat belts. They estimated that increasing seat belt usage in Minnesota to 94% from the current rate of 84% could reduce the cost of crash-related hospital care an average of $19 million annually over the next 10 years.

Many people might wonder how a simple piece of equipment could be so effective in reducing crash-related hospital costs, and potentially save their life.  To understand how a seatbelt works, one must first examine a basic principle of physics called inertia.

Sir Isaac Newton is credited with refining the concept of inertia in his work entitled Laws of Motion. Newton’s first law stated that, “Every body perseveres in its state of being at rest or of moving uniformly straight ahead, except insofar as it is compelled to change its state by forces impressed.”  Put simply, an object will continue to move in an straight line until something interferes with its path.

Take that basic premise and apply it to a moving vehicle, which contains a driver and passengers. If a vehicle is traveling at 40 miles per hour, inertia should keep it moving forward at this pace, undisturbed. However, other factors like air resistance and friction caused by the interaction of the tires and the road surface are continually slowing it down. The car’s engine is designed to compensate for this energy loss and keep the car in continuous motion.

Separately, everything inside the car has its own inertia. Even though the passengers’ inertia is separate from the car’s inertia, while the car is traveling at 40 miles per hour, the passengers are traveling at 40 miles per hour as well. At this point, both the car and the passengers have the same inertia.

If the car were to suddenly stop because it impacted with another object, the passengers’ inertia and the car’s inertia would be completely independent. The force of the impact would bring the car to an abrupt stop, but the passengers would still be traveling at 40 miles per hour. Without a seat belt, the inhabitants would continue to move forward at 40 miles per hour until their path was obstructed, usually by a steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield. Depending on where and how the passengers landed, they could be killed instantly, injured severely, or walk away from the crash unharmed.

The deciding factor in this equation is the seat belt. A seat belt applies the stopping force to the sturdier parts of the body over a longer period of time. If it is worn correctly, it will apply the major portion of the stopping force to the rib cage and the pelvis, which are better able to handle it than other body parts. The belts extend across a wide section of the body, so the force is not concentrated on a small section of the body and cannot do as much harm as the impact of an object in the car. In addition, the flexible seat belt material stretches to keep the stop from being too sudden.

This simple piece of equipment relies on the properties of physics to save both lives and millions of dollars in health care annually.  It could save you money in taxes and health insurance costs.  The three extra seconds it takes to reach over and fasten the belt seem insignificant when you consider the many benefits of wearing it.  The next time you ride in a car, check to see if all the passengers are belted in; it could be the difference between life and death.

Tips for Older Drivers As Your Reaction Time Slows

The feeling of freedom you get while driving is one you never grow tired of. That feeling keeps people behind the wheel, even when the effects of aging make it more difficult for them to drive safely.

As you age, your ability to react lessens. Taking medications for conditions, such as high blood pressure or cardiac problems, can add to your inability to react quickly. You may experience a feeling of being lost or confused when you find yourself in an unfamiliar environment. Sometimes you may also be overwhelmed by all of the traffic signals, road signs, pedestrians and vehicles that you have to keep track of at intersections. Distances become harder to judge, and you have difficulty in determining whether you have enough room to turn or change lanes. Likewise, knowing when to merge with traffic from the on-ramp of a highway may become difficult to judge. These are all the result of the natural aging process, but you need to take extra precautions to be sure they don’t interfere with your ability to handle your vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed the following guidelines to help older Americans drive more safely:

  • Plan your route. Drive where you are familiar with the road conditions and traffic patterns.
  • Drive during the day and avoid rush hours. Find alternative routes with less traffic.
  • Keep a safe distance between you and the car ahead. Find a marker ahead of you, such as a tree, sign or lamppost. When the car ahead of you passes this marker, count “1001, 1002, 1003, 1004.” Try to leave enough space so that you reach 1004 before your car gets to the marker.
  • When approaching intersections, remind yourself to look to roadsides, as well as directly ahead.
  • Try to make left turns at intersections where green arrow signals provide protected turns. Sometimes you can completely avoid left turns by making a right turn at the next intersection. Two more right turns should put you on the street you need.
  • Scan far down the road continuously so that you can anticipate future problems and plan your actions. A passenger can serve as a “second pair of eyes.” Be careful not to get distracted in conversation.

Many seniors are still very capable of driving, which is why a decision about a person’s ability to drive should never be based solely on age. However, changes in reflexes can put at an older driver at increased risk. If you recognize and accept these changes, you can adjust your driving habits to allow many more years of safe driving.

Tweens Need Seat Belts When Riding in the Back Seat

Child safety experts have always emphasized the vulnerability of young children in the event of a crash. Parents are continually schooled in the media about the proper use of car seats and booster seats. The federal government even established guidelines for parents of young children; recommending that parents place infants up to 20 pounds in a rear-facing child seat and toddlers weighing between 20 to 40 pounds in a child seat with a harness. Children weighing more than 40 pounds who aren’t at least 4 feet 9 inches tall should be in a booster seat.

However, when a child grew beyond 4 feet 9 inches tall, usually around the time they reached eight years old, there was no parental guidance from the government in place to protect them in the event of a crash. No longer considered as having the same level of vulnerability as they once did, children between the ages of 8 and 12 years old seemed to get lost in the cracks when it came to auto safety practices. The only recommendation the government made was to have them ride in the back seat until they reach the age of 13.

Experience proved that wasn’t enough. More than one pre-teen, or “tween,” passenger between the ages of 8 and 12 is killed in a motor vehicle crash every day and three times that number are injured, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In light of these statistics, it is no wonder that safety organizations like the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety are asking questions about how frequently tweens are wearing their seat belts and whether or not they’re sitting in the back seat. National fatality data demonstrate that of the more than 400 tweens killed in crashes each year, approximately half are not wearing a seat belt and one-third are riding in the front seat.

To verify these statistics, the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety conducted surveys in Dallas, Texas and Joplin, Missouri.  Researchers discovered that of the children polled, about one-third said they sat in the front seat. Even more significant was the fact that half of the 12-year-olds surveyed said that they sat in the front seat. About 63% of the Joplin tweens questioned said they always wore their seat belts, with 53% of the Dallas children stating the same. Surveys were completed by more than 400 children in both cities and had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

The most alarming discovery that came out of this project was that belt usage in these two locations fell far below the national use rate of 82%. It was also successful in highlighting the problem of why tweens had such a significant death rate as a result of car crashes.

Despite so much bad news, the survey showed how easily parents could improve these results. The Joplin survey revealed a strong parental influence when it came to wearing a seat belt. Nine out of ten children whose parents always wear seat belts followed the example their parents set; however, only six out of ten children whose parents wear seat belts sporadically always wear their belts.

That’s why both the federal government and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety recommend that parents serve as role models and always wear their seat belts. They also recommend using incentives like letting children choose the radio station in exchange for sitting in the back seat and wearing their seat belts. Parents should ban the use of handheld electronic games in the car if children insist upon sitting in the front. Parents also need to remind children that the law requires they wear a seat belt.

Flood Damage to Cars Isn’t Always Easy to Spot

Wherever you find disaster, you almost always find someone attempting to profit. Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the summer of 2005, thousands of water-damaged vehicles showed up in car lots all across the southern United States, many with no visible problems.  They were sold outside of the hurricane’s heavy-hit areas, to avoid suspicion of flood damage.  Though in excellent physical condition, these refurbished cars could still be prone to problems, which is why concealing their disastrous history is against the law.

A “flooded” vehicle is one that has been submerged or partially submerged in water to the extent that damage to the body, engine, transmission or differential occurs.  However, even though physical damage is visible within hours of the flood, it could take weeks or even months for the car to exhibit symptoms of damage with the transmission, on-board computer or electrical systems within the dashboard, anti-lock brakes, airbags, and other safety functions.

Even though most state laws require that the buyer be informed in writing of previous flood damage to a vehicle, there are still several cases each year where the buyer believed they were getting a great deal on a great car.  Despite a flawless exterior, there are other ways to spot a flood-damaged vehicle.

To prevent yourself from being taken advantage of in this situation, here are some basic guidelines in spotting a flood-damaged car:

 

  • Check the engine, trunk, glove compartment, and the floor beneath the carpeting for signs of sand, silt or moisture.
  • Examine all of the computerized and electrical components of the vehicle, including lights, gauges, air conditioning, wipers, turn signals, radio, etc.
  • If you suspect the car may be flood-damaged, ask the seller directly. 
  • If you are still unsure, have the car examined by an independent mechanic.

 

Protect Your Child While Driving

When transporting children in your vehicle (whether they are your own children or others), it is important to ensure that they are properly restrained.  Remember that cars are designed to comfortably and safely seat adult-sized passengers, and child restraints are designed to compensate for this.

In 2003, 5% of all traffic fatalities were children under 14 years old.  Most children were killed because they were not correctly placed in the seat belt, car seat, or booster, or had let themselves out of the restraint. In fact, many had been riding completely unrestrained.

It is extremely important that all children under 12 always ride in the back seat. This was true even before the arrival of airbags, and is especially true now.  Infants and young children should never be in the path of an airbag.  In the backseat, the child is also afforded more distance before they hit anything hard, in the event of a crash. 

Most states have child restraint laws, which specify the ways in which each age group should be restrained in a car.  Unfortunately, many leave a gap for children aged 6-12: children who are too large for child safety seats and too small to fit into vehicle-equipped seatbelts. The best idea is a booster seat, which boosts the child up about four inches, enough for them to fit perfectly into the seatbelt. This is recommended until the child is large enough to fit comfortably and appropriately into an adult-sized chair and seatbelt. 

Falling Asleep at the Wheel: Tips for Avoiding Driver Fatigue

There are many dangers that can contribute to car accidents, but driver fatigue is by far one of the largest.  Falling asleep behind the wheel is a serious problem, causing more than 100,000 accidents per year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For most of these fatigue-based crashes, the culprit is monotony on the road. Interstates and high-speed or long, rural highways, for example, are the most frequent areas where drivers fall asleep. Studies done by the NHTSA have proven that driving with fatigue is equally if not more dangerous than driving intoxicated, with very similar results: impaired reflexes, blurred vision, inability to stay focused, etc.  The NHTSA has estimated that drivers falling asleep at the wheel cost about $12.5 billion annually in insurance claims and medical costs.

There are several common-sense tips for staying awake, especially when driving long distances, or at night.

 

  • Make sure you’re well rested, beginning your trip only after having at least seven to eight hours of sleep.
  • Avoid driving alone on long-distance trips. Passengers can both share in the driving and providing conversation, which can help you stay awake.
  • Be an active driver. Avoiding prolonged use of cruise control. Using it in moderation will help you stay more alert.
  • Allow yourself ample time to reach your destination so you can take advisably frequent breaks. Try to stop about every two hours, or every 100 miles. Make a point of getting out of the car and walking at least a short distance.
  • Driving for long periods at night makes fatigue much more likely. By avoiding traveling during these hours, you escape the glaring dashboard and road lights. That alone will help decrease your risk of highway hypnosis.
  • Finally, if you’re losing the battle against fatigue, stop and sleep at a motel or well-guarded rest stop.

 

Traffic Violation Cameras and Your Auto Insurance Premium

With the sudden presence of traffic violation cameras (red light, speeding, aggressive driving) in states across the country, many Americans feel that their privacy is violated.  Others believe that this is a government ploy for fundraising, or to replace the local police department.  Many people are curious as to the effect a red light camera violation will have on their insurance premium.

Since initiating the program a few short years ago, participating cities have seen very promising results from their investments.  Many have seen a 40% decrease in violations since starting the program.  Fines can be anywhere from $35 to $200, depending on the city in which the violation was issued and the speed over the legal limit at the time of the photograph.

If you are found in violation, the cameras take a picture of your car, with a motion-triggered shutter, which captures an image of you in your vehicle in addition to a zoomed-in image of your license plate.  Some cameras even take a few seconds of video.  Once the data is analyzed, you are issued a ticket through mail.

Some drivers have contested that if the vehicle owner is not the driver at the time of the violation, they should not have to pay the fine.  Most cities allow residents to appeal the citation in this situation.  Other states, however, hold the vehicle owner responsible regardless of who was driving.

There have been a few reports that suggested the cameras increase traffic accidents.  This is both true and false.  As the lights change from green to yellow, drivers begin to panic.  To avoid receiving a traffic violation, they are inclined to stop much more suddenly, which could cause minor rear-end collisions, and fender-benders.  However, more serious side-impact and head-on collisions caused by drivers speeding through red lights have significantly decreased.  As these crashes were much more hazardous, and resulted in far more injuries, the cameras are still viewed as a positive implementation.

Since violations are usually issued as a civil penalty, in most cases they do not result in changes to your insurance premium or points on your license, except in extreme cases.  Driving safely, however, will always result in better insurance rates.

When Should You Get Car Insurance for Your Teen?

As soon as they start learning to drive, whether they are starting with a learner’s permit or going straight to the license, you should inform your insurance company to have them added to your policy.  This is usually much more cost-effective than placing them on their own policy, especially if you are a safe driver with a clean record.  They will also be eligible for more coverage under your policy.

Statistics show that teens are more prone to accidents than those in other age groups, so starting out with the right amount of coverage is extremely important.

When your child goes to college, unless they are taking a car with them, you will probably want to switch them to “occasional drivers” under your policy.  Some other considerations:

 

  • You may qualify for a multi-policy discount if your child’s car is covered under your policy.
  • You may also qualify for a discount during the time your child is away at college.
  • Encourage your child to earn good grades, and take a driver training course.  Some insurers discount due to good grades, and for completion of training courses.
  • Serve as a good role model; your child will learn by example, so it is important to demonstrate good driving habits early on (i.e. not talking on the phone, using seatbelt, not drinking and driving.)

 

The Number of Uninsured Drivers Continues to Rise

Here’s a sobering statistic you might not be aware of: nationwide, when a person is injured in a car accident, the odds are about one in seven that the driver that caused the crash is uninsured. According to a recent Insurance Research Council (IRC) study, the estimated percentage of uninsured drivers rose from 12.7% in 1999 to 14.6% in 2004. The IRC studied data provided by eleven insurance carriers, which represents approximately 58% of the private passenger auto insurance market in the United States.

Uninsured Motorists, 2006 Edition looks at trends in the percentage of uninsured drivers by state from 1999 to 2004. In 2004, the five states with the highest uninsured driver estimates were Mississippi with 26%, Alabama with 25%, California with 25%, New Mexico with 24%, and Arizona with 22%. The five states with the lowest uninsured driver estimates were Maine with 4%, Vermont with 6%, Massachusetts with 6%, New York with 7%, and Nebraska with 8%.

The researchers estimated the number of uninsured drivers by using a ratio of insurance claims made by persons who were injured by uninsured drivers to claims made by persons who were injured by insured drivers. The study also includes recent statistics broken down by state on the frequency of claims made by uninsured motorists, the frequency of claims of bodily injury, and the ratio of uninsured motorists to bodily injury claim frequencies.

Given these statistics, it’s a good idea for people to protect themselves in case they are in an accident with someone with either no coverage or not enough coverage. That’s why the insurance industry developed Uninsured Motorist Insurance and Underinsured Motorist Insurance. Requirements for carrying this coverage differ from state to state. However, in general, states that are considered “no fault” auto insurance states mandate both types of coverage.

Uninsured Motorist insurance protects you when the other driver has no coverage. In order for your Uninsured Motorist coverage to help, the uninsured driver must be the person responsible for causing the accident. The types of coverage provided under this policy include:

 

  • Uninsured Property Damage: Covers you when the insured vehicle sustains property damage, but the at-fault driver has no insurance.
  • Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury: Covers you, the insured members of your household and your passengers for bodily/personal injuries, damages or death caused by an uninsured at-fault driver. If you get into an accident in which the at-fault driver has no insurance, your policy will pay your medical expenses, up to the stated limits of your policy.
  • Underinsured Motorist insurance protects you when you are in an accident with a driver who does not have enough liability coverage. Again, this coverage only helps if the underinsured driver caused the accident. The types of coverage provided under this policy include:
  • Underinsured Motorist Property Damage: Covers you when the insured vehicle sustains property damage, but the at-fault driver is covered by a policy with a liability limit insufficient to cover all the damages.
  • Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury: Covers you, the insured members of your household and your passengers for injuries, damages or death caused by an at-fault driver whose insurance is insufficient to cover the entire expense. If you have an accident with a driver whose policy limits are too low to pay all your damages, your policy will pay the difference up to the stated limits of your policy.

 

If you haven’t reviewed your insurance coverage recently, talk to your insurance agent to review any gaps in your coverage. You may be putting yourself and your family in greater risk than you realize.

Sport Utility Vehicles Improving Rollover Safety Record

According to Newsweek, one in four automobiles sold in the United States is a sports utility vehicle. Every SUV purchase nets an average of $15,000, according to Forbes magazine, in profit for the vehicle’s maker. Because of this high demand and lucrative sales potential, the makers of SUVs have been accused of ignoring safety when it comes to the design and production of their products. The biggest safety complaint about the SUV is its high rollover record.

This lax attitude toward safety, however, is an item of the past. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released new rollover results for 2006 and 39 SUVs earned four-star ratings, which was the highest rating earned by the vehicles tested. No SUV earned the top ranking of five-stars. Under this ratings system, a vehicle rated at five-stars has a rollover risk of less than 10%. A four-star vehicle has a 10% to 20% risk, and a three-star vehicle has a 20% to 30% risk.

Newly tested SUVs that received four stars included: the Chevrolet HHR, Honda Pilot, Toyota RAV4, Subaru B9 Tribeca, Hyundai Tucson, Mercedes-Benz ML Class, Suzuki Grand Vitara and four-wheel drive versions of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer.

Among top-scoring SUVs, the HHR had a 14% chance of rollover and four-wheel drive versions of the Pilot had a 15% chance.

The four-wheel drive version of the Nissan XTerra had a 25% percent chance of rollover, the highest percentage among the new SUVs tested. The two-wheel drive version of the XTerra, the two-wheel drive Chevrolet Tahoe and Hummer H3 each had a 24% chance of rollover, and all received three stars.

The new statistics also reveal that SUVs have shown consistent improvements in the area of safety. Only two-dozen SUVs received four stars last year, and just one SUV earned the ranking in 2001. In addition, the agency noted that 7 in 10 new SUVs are equipped with electronic stability control. This feature is an anti-rollover system that automatically applies the brakes if the vehicle begins to skid, which helps to stabilize the vehicle. Government studies have found stability control reduces single-vehicle sport utility crashes by 67% compared with the same models sold in previous years without the feature.

Since 2004, NHTSA has asked auto manufacturers to voluntarily install electronic stability control because of its proven potential for saving lives.  As a result, nearly all automakers now offer electronic stability control as standard equipment on a total of 57 SUV models, and on 6 SUVs as an available option. This is up from 20 standard and 14 optional in 2003. NHTSA is expected to issue a new proposal later this year specifying a performance criterion for stability control.