New Data: No Seat Belt Leads to Bigger Hospital Bills

FEBRUARY 9, 2007 - Posted at 3:05 p.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, AR - New state data says that car accidents involving drivers and passengers who don't wear seat belts cost $4 million more annually than wrecks involving restrained drivers.

Yesterday, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement announced the data, which includes the hospital charges of more than 4,000 people who were hospitalized after car wrecks between 2001 and 2005.

The data says that a car accident victim who didn't wear a seat belt paid about $14,000 more in hospital bills, and stayed a day-and-a-half longer in the hospital, than a victim who wore a seat belt.

The center's data says that 70 percent of the 2,600 people who died from car accidents from 2001-2005 weren't wearing seat belts.

Lawmakers are now deciding whether Arkansas should have a primary seat belt law, which would allow law enforcement to pull over drivers who aren't wearing their seat belts.  But some legislators say that a primary seat belt law is unnecessary, and that seat belt use is a matter of personal choice.

A primary seat belt law failed in the Legislature in 2003.  This session's bill, introduced by Senator Hank Wilkins, a Democrat from Pine Bluff, has been referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)