A recent report on the enforcement and adoption of injury-prevention policies revealed that Montana had the second highest rate of deaths caused by injuries in the country. According to the study, our state had 86.5 injury-related deaths per 100,000 people, while the national average is 57.9 per 100,000. Car accidents were shown to be one of the leading causes of unintentional injury.

The report, released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health, identified policies that could help reduce the number of injuries. These policies included laws related to seatbelts, helmets, drunk driving and children’s car seats.

According to the report, approximately 12,000 children and teenagers die from accidental injuries each year, and around 9.2 million receive treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Overall, nearly 50 million people nationwide receive medical treatment for injuries.

Besides the fatalities, billions of dollars are lost in productivity and medical care because of injuries. In Montana alone, the total lifetime cost of medical care for fatal injuries is around $6.8 million. A separate study conducted in 2008 by the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center concluded that Montana spends around $36.7 million annually in direct inpatient healthcare costs for injuries that could have been prevented by wearing a seat belt.

Across the country, seatbelts, helmets and child seats have been proven to save lives — with seatbelts reportedly saving 69,000 lives between 2006 and 2010; and between 2005 and 2009, motorcycle helmets saved 8,000 lives while safety seats saved 1,800 lives. Montana has not adopted most of the recommended measures into state law.

The Yellowstone County health officer said it best: “Our legislature has debated and not enacted many of the evidence-based policy indicators on which the report was based and unfortunately, Montanans continue to be injured or die.”

In the absence of injury-prevention policies, Montanans who have suffered an injury due to another driver’s negligence should be aware of their rights as victims under our state’s personal injury laws. There is no good reason that a physical injury should turn into a financial one.

Source: Billings Gazette, “Montana has 2nd highest rate of injuries in nation,” Cindy Uken, May 24, 2012