This July 4, thousands of Montanans hit the roads to visit family, watch fireworks, get out of town and relax. That special day reminded us of the precious freedoms our forefathers fought so hard for; so many freedoms, in fact, that we could not begin to list them all. The freedom to go where we choose, the freedom to say what we want to say, and the freedom to gather and celebrate are just a few. All you have to do is turn on the nightly news to see that so many of the freedoms we enjoy are not shared across the globe.
We are writing this column to shed light on a freedom that we do not enjoy. This is a freedom that few people think about, and it rarely makes the news, yet it costs Montanans millions of dollars each year and untold heartache. We are talking about freedom from the cost of motor vehicle crashes. We may lose some readers at this point, but here are the facts: Montana taxpayers pay $641 million each year due to motor vehicle crashes. We are not talking about the entire United States — just Montana.
That's $641 for every man, woman and child in Montana, each year.
Crash victims, businesses, hospitals, communities and families pay this incredible sum. Even more significant than the financial costs are the emotional costs to families. You can't put a price tag on their suffering. The cost of motor vehicle crashes is one of the most significant financial and emotional costs we Montanans pay.
On average, 200 Montanans die on Montana's roadways each year. There are also more than 8,000 serious injuries. Twenty percent of these injuries are categorized as "incapacitating" meaning that the person can no longer walk, drive or normally continue the activities he or she was capable of doing before the injury occurred. Remember, we are just talking about Montana — 8,000 roadway injuries, every year.
For many readers, I've revealed an unspoken, repeating tragedy.
Thankfully, there is a solution.
In 2010, only 33.3 percent of vehicle occupants killed in collisions on Montana's roadways were wearing seat belts. If everyone had been wearing a seat belt, approximately 50 lives would have been saved. That's 50 mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and friends who would survive each year, if only they had been wearing their seat belt.
Please consider the following call to action. Make seat belts the topic of conversation at your next staff meeting. Make seat belts the topic of conversation at the next school assembly. Make seat belts the topic of conversation tonight at dinner with your family. Talk to your kids frequently about seat belt safety and set an example by wearing your own. Talk to your employer about implementing a seat belt policy. Remind your neighbors to put on their seat belt the next time you see them pulling out of their driveway. And please make sure everyone in your car is buckled, every trip, every time.
You might save a life, and that life could be your own. Thank you.
(Mary Owens and Kathy Fanning are members of the Hill County Buckle-Up Montana Coalition.)