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Passing 10 Laws Could Prevent Thousands of Injuries

If you’re between the ages of one and 44, you’re more likely to be killed by an injury than any disease, yet states continue to drag their heels on enacting and enforcing legislation that could prevent injuries and deaths. Oregon has a higher rate of injuries per 100,000 people than either Washington or California, and a rate nearly twice that of New York, but new legislation is painfully slow coming forward.

A new report issued by Trust for America’s Health (TAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says 50 million Americans need treatment for injuries every year, but if states both adopted and rigorously enforced laws and policies proven to save lives, several million of these injuries could be prevented. Yet in states like Oregon, where a person’s freedom of choice is staunchly defended, some common sense laws take a back seat to an individual’s right to make his own decisions…no matter how dangerous those decisions might be.

Just 10 recommended laws, but no state has passed all 10

The TAH report says has recommended just ten mostly common sense measures that have a proven track record of cutting back on injuries and saving lives. The recommendations have been around for years, but to date, not a single American state has passed all 10 measures. Some of the surprising facts outlined in the report include:

  • There are 18 states that don’t even have primary seat belt laws, which allow law enforcement officials to pull over a driver who is not wearing a seat belt. This in spite of the fact that seat belts are estimated to have saved about 14,000 lives per year over each of the past five years.
  • Almost half of all states (24) have enacted five or less of the 10 proven pieces of legislation that prevent injuries.
  • Montana and Ohio have each enacted only two of the 10 pieces of injury prevention legislation. This may help explain Montana’s outrageously high incident rate of injuries, at 87 people per 100,000 residents.
  • California and New York have enacted nine of the 10 safety statutes, which may also explain New York’s unusually low rate of injuries—just 37.1 for every 100,000 people.
  • As well as being the leading cause of death in people aged between one and 44, injuries are the third leading cause of death in America across all age groups.
  • The cost of medical care and lost productivity due to injuries alone is a staggering $406 billion every year.

The proposed measures aren’t all about road safety

The TAH report is quick to point out that not all of its proposed 10 injury prevention methods relate to road safety. They also include measures pertaining to sports concussion safety laws, drug monitoring and even laws related to teen dating violence.

One non-road related area the group would really like states to look at is the issue of poisoning by prescription painkillers. Even people who have been monitoring ways to keep people safe were shocked at recent statistics which show that the number of prescriptions for painkillers has actually trebled in just three years. It’s no coincidence, then, that the number of poisonings has also increased three-fold. “To me, that was one of the stunning things to jump out from the numbers,” said Jeff Levi, TAH’s Executive Director.

Levi has recommended that every state should establish a prescription drug monitoring program.

Moving from secondary to primary has helped

Secondary seat belt laws only allow law enforcement officials to issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt if and when another traffic offense has been committed. Many states still hold onto secondary seat belt laws, but TAH and the Safe States Alliance, along with the Society for the Advancement of Violence and Injury Prevention insist that those states should move from secondary to primary seat belt laws as a way of preventing injuries. They would also like to see more done to control the number of DUI drivers on the road, as well as the implementation of laws to protect motorcyclists and children. They point to the following statistics:

  • In all, 18 states do not have primary seat belt laws.
  • States that changed from secondary to primary seat belt laws have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of fatal injuries; on average a 9% decline in numbers
  • Every single day, 30 people die on American roads in motor vehicle accidents caused by alcohol-impaired drivers, yet there are still 34 states, plus Washington D.C., that do not require mandatory ignition interlocks in vehicles used by already convicted drunk drivers.
  • It is estimated that helmets saved the lives of some 8,000 motorcycle riders between 2005 and 2009, yet 31 states still do not require helmets for everyone on a motorcycle.
  • Children are not required to wear bicycle helmets in 29 states. The reason given by many legislators is that not everyone can afford helmets for their children, but they (the state) don’t want to discourage children from getting much-needed exercise, so that particular piece of accident injury legislation is unlikely to be passed by the remaining states any time soon.
  • In spite of the obvious and documented dangers, there are still 17 states that do not require children to ride in a car seat or booster seat until at least the age of 8.

“We have a long way to go to get uniform coverage to protect more people across the country,” according to Andrea Gielen of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, who co-wrote the TAH report. “We hope the report moves states and communities to do more. These are common-sense measures that could prevent many injuries and save lives,” Gielen said.

While Oregon isn’t the worst offender as regards injuries to its population, at 61.2 per 100,000 people, it still ranks above the national average of 57.9. Given that such a high percentage of injuries would be preventable simply by enacting and enforcing new auto injury legislation, it begs the question of which is more important, people’s individual rights, or their safety?