Auto Accident Costs Top $40 Billion/Year

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration - the government agency in charge of writing and enforcing auto accident safety protocols - says over 33,000 car accident fatalities involving drivers, passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists occurred in 2009. Approximately 1300 happened in North Carolina alone.

Further, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - the government agency under the Department of Health that provides information to the public regarding health and safety - reports that approximately $41 billion is spent each year in medical expenses and work-loss costs connected to car accidents.

Additionally, many states are passing laws to increase the speed limits on highways - a few states even increasing the limit to 85 mph.

To cut down on costs, accidents and fatalities associated with car accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends states consider implementing the following safety protocols:

Employ Primary Seatbelt Laws

Currently, 31 states have primary seatbelt laws, meaning an officer can pull over and ticket an individual found not wearing a seatbelt without the presence of any other traffic violation. (Secondary seatbelt laws, conversely, allow an officer to pull over and ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt only if the driver commits another traffic infraction.)

According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey - a survey that provides probability-based data on nationwide seatbelt use in the United States - as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seatbelt use continues to be higher in states that have implemented primary seat belt laws.

North Carolina only requires drivers 16 years of age and under to wear a seatbelt and does not necessitate mandatory seatbelt-wearing for backseat passengers.

Requiring Age and Size Appropriate Booster or Car Seats for All Children

All 50 states, including the District of Columbia, have implemented child restraint or safety belt laws for children. However, each state differs on the age, safety requirements and penalties for failing to properly buckle a child into a seatbelt. Further, some states have implemented only secondary child restraint laws.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, children seven years and younger and weighing less than 80 pounds are required to be in a child car seat in North Carolina.

Implementing Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) Laws

A GDL program sets boundaries for young drivers until they can obtain full-driving privileges. Usually GDL programs contain three stages: learner (requiring a driving test and supervised driving), intermediate (limited supervised driving) and full-privilege (a standard driver's license).

According to the CDC, graduated driver licensing programs have reduced teen deaths by up to 40 percent. Each state varies on the GDL requirements. North Carolina, for example, requires all three stages of GDL; however, the learner stage only lasts for 6 months versus a 12 month period used in many other states.

Mandatory Motorcycle Helmet Laws

Injuries from motorcycle accidents have risen by about 5,000 each year since 1997. The CDC reports that the risk of brain or head injury decreases by 69 percent for all motorcycle drivers who wear helmets.

Currently only 20 states, including North Carolina, require drivers to wear motorcycle helmets when operating a motorcycle. According to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, not only do helmets save lives but they have also been shown to decrease cervical spine injuries - debunking the myth that helmets aid in causing spine injuries because their weight causes torque to the neck or the spine during a crash.

States Increasing Speed Limits

The NHTSA recommendations are even more essential, some argue, because many states are passing laws to increase speed limits on highways.

Texas recently passed a bill in the House to increase the speed limit on some freeways to 85 mph. Utah also recently increased their highway speed limit to 80.

However, according to experts, increased speeds lead to increased auto accidents. Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, agrees. "We're willing to raise the speed limit even though we know that if people travel faster we're going to have more deaths on highways," Lund says.

In the wake of this trend, states should consider following the NHTSA's recommendations a bit more closely.