Remarks of Mark V. Rosenker, Chairman
National Transportation Safety Board
Vermont Press Conference On Seat Belt Legislation
September 7, 2007
Good afternoon! Thank you for coming to this very important press conference on primary enforcement seat belt legislation.
It is wonderful to be back in Vermont. My reason for coming back to this beautiful State was to talk about improving recreational boating safety this evening at the annual conference of State Boating Law Administrators, but seat belts are so important to me that I left Washington early so that I could strongly urge Vermont to upgrade its seat belt law by authorizing primary enforcement.
I have been in the transportation safety business for more than 3 decades. Back when I started in 1972, there were more than 122 million registered vehicles and more than 54 thousand fatalities. Since then, the number of registered vehicles has more than doubled while highway fatalities have declined to about 43 thousand.
We have come a long way! We have better vehicles on the road and better technology available. Through a lot of education, driving after drinking has become socially unacceptable. We’ve identified ways to protect our teenagers as they learn how to drive by establishing graduated driver licensing laws. And we’ve improved protection for young children riding in vehicles. But the single greatest life-saving measure has remained the same, the seat belt. And failing to use the seat belt has remained one of the biggest contributing factors to the daily tragedies on our roadways.
For 40 years, the NTSB has been the conscience of the transportation community. The Safety Board’s job is to investigate accidents in all modes of transportation and make recommendations to prevent future accidents, injuries, and deaths.
We see first hand the tragic results of highway crashes, which cause over 90 percent of all transportation-related deaths in this country. Highway crashes are the leading cause of death for people age 4 through 34, and one of the leading causes of death for all ages. So when we identify a technology like the seat belt that can save thousands of lives and prevent thousands of injuries every year, you can bet we want to make sure everyone uses them!
People need to use them! In 2005, seat belts saved an estimated 15,600 lives. If all vehicle occupants had used their seat belts, an additional 5,300 lives could have been saved. Here in Vermont, your observed daytime use rate is pretty high – about 83 percent. But over the last 10 years, roughly 57 percent of your fatalities were not buckled up. Seat belts could have made a big difference in those nearly 400 lives lost! That’s why our recommendation to require seat belt use and authorize primary enforcement is on the Board’s Most Wanted list.
As Ethan Allen once wrote, “Ever since I arrived to a state of manhood, I have felt a sincere passion for liberty.” And like that famed Revolutionary War veteran, Vermonters love their liberty. No one wants the Government telling us what we can and cannot do. But if you are in a bad traffic crash without wearing a seat belt, government will play a large part in your life in ways you never imagined. Let me give you an example that plays out all too often in Vermont and elsewhere across the country.
It will start with the emergency services personnel who will have to work diligently and quickly to keep you alive after you are violently thrown from your vehicle. Then, doctors and nurses at the publicly funded trauma center will have to work diligently and quickly to put you back together after you have likely broken bones, bruised organs, and suffered internal bleeding. Assuming that you are not left in a coma or hooked up to a breathing machine, you will then need to work with physical therapists, speech therapists, and others to help you recover as much of your active life as you had before the accident as your injuries allow.
When you max out your medical insurance, assuming you have private medical insurance, you will be dealing with public services to try to cope with the mounting debt from all of your medical and rehabilitative services. And this is assuming you don’t die in the initial crash or while you recover from your injuries. The bottom line? You could have avoided all of this if you simply took a few seconds to fasten your seat belt!
I want to commend Vermont’s House of Representatives for passing primary enforcement legislation not once, but twice this past session. I want to thank those Senators, some of whom are here today, who have supported this needed legislation. And I want to thank Lt. Governor Dubie for his efforts to increase belt use in Vermont and for being here today.
I urge the Vermont legislature to pass the amended version of Senate Bill 133 next session so that we can reduce the number of lives lost and families destroyed by traffic crashes. Thank you!