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Press Briefing Transcript

CDC Vital Signs: Nonfatal Motor Vehicle Injuries and Seat Belt Use Among U.S. Adults

Tuesday, January 4, 2011 – 12:00pm ET

Tom Skinner: Thank you, Shirley. Thank you for joining us today for CDC's release of Vital Signs report on Non-Fatal Motor Vehicle Occupant Injuries in 2009 and Seat Belt use in 2008 among adults here in the United States. With us is the CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden who is going to provide some opening remarks and also with us is an epidemiologist from our Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention Laurie Beck who will be on hand, if necessary, to help with questions that you may have later during the briefing. So with that, I'll turn it over to Dr. Frieden.

Thomas Frieden: Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks very much for joining us. Today is the latest in our monthly Vital Signs release and really what we have here is good news. Wearing a seat belt on every trip has become the norm in America and that is associated with a steady fall in injuries and deaths from motor vehicle crashes [editor's note: This study did not look at deaths]. We also know that today's data shows that strong seat belt laws save lives and save money. Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death in the United States among young people age 5 to 34. More than 2 million adults each year are treated for injuries in emergency departments and nearly 34,000 people of all ages died from these injuries last year. Every 14 seconds an adult in the U.S. Is treated in an emergency department for a motor vehicle crash-related injury, and this is costing us not only lives, but also money. The total life time cost both medical and in terms of productivity loss are motor vehicle crashes in a single year of 2005 was more than $11 billion [editor's note: This number should be $70 billion]. We cannot afford to continue to lose the money and lives that are being lost to motor vehicle crashes. Seat belt use is the most effective method to reduce the risk of injury or death and it protects drivers and passengers, reducing the risk being killed by about half. The simple act of buckling up didn't cost any money and saves lives. Primary seat belt laws which enable police to ticket individuals not wearing seat belts are a very effective way to increase seat belt use, to have the potential to increase use and decrease death rates. In 2008 for the first time overall seat belt use reached a high of 85%, really making it the social norm in this country. Seat belt use was much higher in states that have primary enforcement laws, 88% than in states that only had secondary enforcement laws, 79% and we estimate that in seat belt use in states with secondary enforcement laws had matched that, there would have been more than 7 million adults buckled up who wouldn't have been buckled up otherwise. There are real success stories here nationally, but in terms of individual states. Seven states have achieved a rate of 90% or more in seat belt wearing. Oregon, California, Washington state, Hawaii, New Jersey, Texas and Puerto Rico, and I think some of those may surprise some people, but virtually everyone knows someone or knows of someone who has had a tragedy because of an injury or death in a motor vehicle crash. Motor vehicle crashes are preventable and injuries for motor vehicle crashes are preventable. There is enormous variation between different states in the rate of motor vehicle crashes and motor vehicle deaths just as there is enormous variation between countries and the U.S. Rate is far higher than rates in other countries where people drive just as fast and drink just as much as we do. More progress is possible, but significant progress has been made. To recap, before I turn it over to Laurie, today's news is good news. Seat belt wearing on every trip has become the social norm in this country, but more progress is possible. People should buckle up on every trip and states that don't yet have primary seat belt laws should consider adopting them as a way of saving both lives and money.

Tom Skinner: Shirley, I think we're ready for questions.

Operator: Thank you. We are now ready to speak in the question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question please press star 1. You will be prompted to record your name. To withdraw your request you may press star 2. Again, press star 1 to ask a question and one moment for our first question. Our first question comes from Mike Stobbe from the Associated Press. You may ask your question.

Mike Stobbe: Thank you for taking the call. First question, doctor, you gave 85% of the adult seat belt wearing rate. Do you have a rate for teens? Also, what else besides seatbelt use might account for the decline in injuries and deaths?

Thomas Frieden: I'll start off and ask our expert to add to that. Our—this study looked only at adults age 18 and above. So we have other data that we can provide about teen use wearing, but the data we're providing today is only about adults. We do know that adult behavior is correlated with child behavior. If adults wear belts they're more likely to have kids wearing belts as well. What was the second question again, Mike?

Mike Stobbe: It was—you mainly talked about seat belt use.

Thomas Frieden: Right.

Mike Stobbe: And its association with the decline. What else might account for the decline in deaths and injuries?

Thomas Frieden: I think there are a variety of factors. Some of them are design related so our vehicles are getting safer and that's an important aspect. Some are relating to the amount of driving that people are doing in tough economic times with high gasoline prices and deaths per vehicles miles traveled we see a steady decline. Laurie?

Laurie Beck: That's right. There are other factors that contribute to decline in injuries and they reduce the death of injury in crash by about 50% and they're the most effective way to prevent injuries and death.

Thomas Frieden: Furthermore, as we released data recently showing a very substantial decrease over the past decade in injuries and deaths among young drivers, teens, this relate, we think, to the expansion of the graduated driver's licenses and although no state yet has the ideal graduated driver's license law they've become the norm in most states and this is a very important factor in reducing motor vehicle crashes, not just among teens, but among others more broadly.

Tom Skinner: Next question, please?

Operator: Our next question comes from Daniel DeNoon with WebMD. You may ask your question.

Dan DeNoon: Thank you. Dr. Frieden, do the statistics show a direct link between the reduction and injuries and the increased use of seat belts? Is this directly correlated? And also, a second question on an unrelated topic.

Thomas Frieden: We know that wearing a belt reduces your risk of dying in a crash by about half, but the correlate the rates of wearing in society in a state with injury injuries in that state is not something we try to do in this study.

Dan DeNoon: Thank you. With regard to state laws, do they also include ticketing passengers who are not the driver for not wearing seatbelts and do those vary? Are there laws that are front seat or some to the backseat? Is there any indication that the more stringent of those laws have any effect?

Thomas Frieden: It certainly does vary by state. Some states are not only primary versus secondary, but as you note, front seat versus backseat.

Laurie Beck: Right. We didn't look at those factors in this study, but there is evidence from other studies that those kind of factors can impact seat belt use as well and whether only the front seat passenger and driver are covered or also the occupants in the rear seat.

Operator: Thank you. Next question comes from Carol Robidoux with the New Hampshire Union Leader, you may ask your question.

Carol Robidoux: Thank you very much. I had a question about the statistics. I checked the—the most recent stats they could find from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. I'm here in New Hampshire where I think we're the only state that doesn't have mandatory seatbelt laws, primary or secondary or at least primary in this case, and according to the—the recent 2008 statistics it appears that of all the states surveyed, the 50 states and territories particular to the 50states, New Hampshire had the greatest increase year over year from 2007 to 2008 in terms of usage. It looks like it went up 5.4% in one year and the statistics have increased pretty dramatically in the last seven or eight years from 49.6 or something like that and here it has been a contentious issue in terms of mandatory law and some would say—the argument has continued to win over the senate that having a mandatory law isn't—isn't the key more is education and getting people to do the right thing rather than making it, you know, a punitive law, and I just wondered about the CDC Vital Signs report. You mentioned that it was based on some 2009 figures, but I'm assuming that you're still relying on the national highway traffic safety figures in 2008 and that those were the most recent figures in terms of state by state-usage?

Thomas Frieden: Yeah. So, you're right that New Hampshire is the only state that doesn't have any seat belt law either primary or secondary. Our report is based on a different data system, the behavioral risk factor surveillance system from 2008 and we could get you longitudinal data subsequently if you'd like, but we don't have it now.

Carol Robidoux: Okay. So, can you state that name against data system that you're using?

Thomas Frieden: BRFSS. And our press office can get you the information. It's in the report on table two.

Carol Robidoux: Oh, okay. I can look that up.

Tom Skinner: If you want to call—my name's Tom Skinner, and if you want to call 404-639-3286 after this call we'll get you what you need.

Carol Robidoux: Okay. Thanks.

Thomas Frieden: Okay?

Carol Robidoux: Yeah.

Tom Skinner: Next question, Shirley.

Operator: Thank you, again, if you'd like to ask a question press star 1 and the next question comes from Timothy Martin from the Wall Street Journal.

Timothy Martin: Thanks for taking my call. Can you guys hear me all right?

Thomas Frieden: Yes.

Timothy Martin: In the release statement it said one in seven adults don't wear seat belts on every trip. I was wondering if you could give any color—are there certain trips where the data found where the seat belt usage was lower?

Thomas Frieden: We can—we can give you that information follow up. The question is asked do you wear a seat belt always, nearly always and we can get you that information follow up.

Timothy Martin: I was wondering if there was a group of people out there that never wear a seat belt and they're part of the dip in numbers or maybe logic would say for shorter trips if you run to the supermarket or a gas station you don't belt up.

Thomas Frieden: What is striking is the steady increase in people who do wear a seat belt upon every trip.

Laurie Beck: Yes. It's important to wear a seatbelt on every trip because no one really knows day to day when they get into a motor vehicle if they're going to be in a crash and that's the goal is to have every person buckled up in every seat on every trip that they take.

Thomas Frieden: We also know that the simpler the policies, the more likely people are to comply and sometimes you might end up taking a longer trip than you thought you would when you got in.

Tom Skinner: Thank you. Next question, Shirley.

Operator: I'm showing no further questions. If you'd like to ask a question just press star 1. One moment, please, for our next question. At this time I'm showing no further questions.

Tom Skinner: Okay.

Thomas Frieden: Okay. Well, I want to thank you all for listening and your interest and again, the news I think is good wearing a seat belt on every trip has become the social norm in this country. We do have farther to go because motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among young people in this country and not wearing a seat belt is costing us both lives and money. We also showed through our report a very substantial difference in the rate of seatbelt wearing among several states with primary versus secondary seat belt laws and that's one area where states can make a policy change that doesn't cost anything and does save both lives and money. Thank you all very much and all of the best for a very healthy and productive 2011.

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