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Buckle Up America...Except NH

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February 19, 2007


New Hampshire is the only one in the nation, and last in the nation, and the rankings are nothing to brag about. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Granite State is the only one without an adult seat belt law, and last in the nation when it comes to observed seat belt use.

The legislature is looking at a seat belt law, and those who object to the idea claim it intrudes on personal freedom. But Dr. John Sutton, director of Trauma Services at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, says his staff sees the impact on everyday operations at the hospital.

"To have to make decisions about whether you take care of a critically ill cancer patient, or whether you take care of a traumatic injury patient whose injury could have been prevented if they were wearing a seat belt, is very frustrating."

Dr. Sutton says it could be argued that the lack of a seat belt law infringes on other people's lives and pocketbooks. He cites statistics such as injury costs and insurance rates to refute the "personal freedom" claim.

"It really is influencing society as a whole in terms of the way we deliver medical care to everybody else and, more specifically, how we pay for that medical care."

Dr. Sutton says doctors and nurses have their own version of New Hampshire's famous state slogan in the seat belt debate: "Live free or die," in the medical community, becomes "Live free AND die," which is what may happen when people don't buckle up those seat belts.

Deborah Smith/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - NH