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Things I Didn’t Know

A new and occasional series of traffic facts that were novel to me.

I was in lovely Savannah, Georgia, yesterday at a AAA safety conference. I heard many interesting things (and managed to sneak out for some quick BBQ at Wall’s, a great place hidden in a house in an alley that I hadn’t been to in years and was worried may have closed in the intervening time).

One random fact I heard that was new to me was that Massachusetts has the lowest seat-belt wearing rate in the country. Somehow I had imagined some Western state (or maybe Alaska) would take top crown, not a relatively wealthy state with a concentration of high-tech and academia. Of course, the irony here is that Massachusetts, per mile, has the lowest fatality rate in the country — a fact that surely has to do with density (not so many chances to get in trouble, and lots of nearby trauma centers).

I’m not sure whether this is some expression of Emersonian self-reliance (neighboring New Hampshire is, of course, famously resistant to safety laws — “Live Free And/Or Die” is how someone put it). The reality, though, is that this non-seat-belt-wearing is actually not so self-reliant; this study shows the medical burden the state assumes in treating the unbelted occupants of cars in crashes. They also note, “Additionally, research has shown that the costs of unbelted injuries are 25% higher than belted injuries, and unbelted occupants are more likely to be Medicaid patients.”

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This entry was posted on Friday, March 6th, 2009 at 10:21 am and is filed under Things I Didn't Know, Traffic safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Things I Didn’t Know”

  1. John Says:

    I lived in New Jersey for a year. While living there I had physical therapy due to a weak back. While my PT was working on me she was talking to another PT. My PT said that she never wears a seat belt. Her reasoning was she has many, many patients who were in car crashes, wore seat belts, and are now in physical therapy. People not wearing seat belts were thrown clear of the crash and didn’t require therapy. I slowly turned around and asked, “Are you serious?” I pointed out we don’t perform physical therapy on corpses.

  2. Jennifer Says:

    Hmmm… As a Georgia resident with relatives in Massachusetts who I visit at least annually, I have observed that there is a big difference between GA and MA roads. Here, roads are larger, straighter, and have better pavement condition (less weather-related damage, especially). In Massachusetts, or at least the Boston metro area, the roads are narrower, windier, and bumpier. As a result, everybody seems to drive a lot slower, on average, there than they do in Georgia. I would wager that the lower travel speeds have something to do with seatbelt use…

    Also, not sure about state laws, but at least in GA, everyone is required to wear seatbelts and the police will occasionally do “stings” and pull people over to check.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Slate.com Transport column to me at: info@howwedrive.com.

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