DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

Opinion

May 16, 2013

New Hampshire's deadly distinction

Electronic message boards along the state’s highways alert drivers to Buckle Up New Hampshire Week.

Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a proclamation making it official.

Seriously?

The Granite State has the sorry distinction of being the only one of 50 that does not have a seat belt law — none. In Live Free or Die land, only those under the age of 18 are required to buckle up.

In her proclamation, the governor noted 105 people died on the state’s roads in 2012. Just 35 percent of those killed were wearing seat belts. That’s worse than the numbers were in 2007, when 62 percent of people killed in car accidents here were not wearing seat belts.

The costs go beyond fatalities.

People injured in accidents who are not buckled up stay in the hospital half again as long as those injured who were belted in, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

That same agency estimates the cost for medical care and days off the job for people who don’t wear seat belts is in the tens of billions of dollars every year.

Of the 49 states with seat belt regulations, 32 have primary laws. That means not wearing a seat belt is cause enough to be pulled over by police. Not surprisingly, seat belt usage is highest in those states, 90 percent in 2012.

But even in the 17 states with secondary laws on the books, usage was at 78 percent last year.

Nationally, seat belt use stood at 86 percent in 2012. That’s an all-time high.

Even New Hampshire has shown improvement.

In 2011, 75 percent of Granite Staters were buckled up, but that’s still significantly below the national average. More women than men use seat belts here and pickup drivers are among those least likely to use a seat belt.

State lawmakers floated a seat belt proposal in 2009, but personal freedom advocates won out — depending on how you look at it.

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