Lack of Seat Belt Use Among Minorities a ‘Health Crisis’ in Massachusetts: Meharry-State Farm Alliance

4/26/2006 8:30:00 AM EST


Study Shows African Americans and Latinos Five Times More Likely to Become Injured Than Whites Health Disparities Experts, MADD to Visit Beacon Hill Today.

On the heels of landmark health care reform legislation in Massachusetts establishing a commission to eliminate racial and ethnic health disparities, national experts from the Meharry-State Farm Alliance at Meharry Medical College will visit Beacon Hill today with a strong message to state legislators: Massachusetts is needlessly spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to provide long-term health care while its minority citizens are killed or injured at the mercy of the state’s most preventable cause of death–low rates of seat belt usage.

“What we’re facing is a real public health crisis, not only in Massachusetts, but across the nation,” said Irwin Goldzweig of the Meharry-State Farm Alliance, a nationally renowned seat belt compliance advocacy, research and education organization housing the nation’s only comprehensive minority seat belt compliance database. “For the last four years we have been compiling scientific evidence proving that primary seat belt legislation decreases disparities in seat belt use and therefore in preventable death and injury among minority populations. Massachusetts is clearly behind the curve when it comes to addressing this issue.”

“One year ago, the Boston Public Health Commission documented widespread disparities in health care for ethnic minorities in Massachusetts,” said Dr. Selwyn O. Rogers of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Eight months ago, Hurricane Katrina unmasked widespread disparities by race and class in the aftermath of the storm. Today, we have a ‘silent’ Katrina. African-Americans and Hispanic Americans are less likely to use seat belts and are disproportionately more likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries, nonfatal motor vehicle injuries, and fatal motor vehicle injuries. A primary seat belt law in Massachusetts would be one tangible public policy step to eliminate these disparities.”

Primary seat belt legislation allows state and local law enforcement to cite motorists who are not wearing seatbelts. Many states have passed secondary legislation that limits law enforcement to stopping motorists for non-seat belt usage only if there is another moving violation in progress.

Among the Meharry State-Farm Alliance’s other findings to be presented:

— Massachusetts provides financial and medical assistance to approximately 100 new spinal cord injured persons per year as a result of preventable car crashes, costing the state nearly $24 million in health care costs.

— More than one-half of the increase in MassHealth spending (the state’s health care coverage program) since 2000 is attributed to services for the non-elderly disabled, accounting for 70 percent of the increased spending as a whole.

— When compared with other states that have passed primary seat belt legislation, Massachusetts would prevent more than 2,000 injuries, 27 deaths and $221.1 million in the first year alone.

— In neighboring Connecticut, a state with primary seat belt legislation, the mortality rate is nearly 38 percent lower per 100,000 motorists.

These findings specific to Massachusetts are supported by scientific evidence accumulated by the Meharry-State Farm Alliance proving that primary seat belt legislation removes disparities in this public health crisis for all Americans.

“The lack of seat belt usage represents significant preventable injuries especially for African Americans and Latinos who are 5 to 6 times more likely than white motorists to suffer critical injuries,” said Goldzweig of the Alliance. “Other states have shown that it doesn’t cost a dime to save thousands of lives and millions of dollars. We hope Massachusetts will consider the data and act in the best interest of its residents by passing primary legislation.”

About Meharry

Meharry Medical College is the nation’s largest private, independent historically black institution dedicated solely to educating health science professionals. The College is particularly well known for its uniquely nurturing, highly effective educational programs; growing preeminence in health disparities research; culturally sensitive, evidence-based health services; and significant contribution to the diversity of the nation’s health professions workforce. Diverse Issues in Higher Education’s ranking of institutions annually lists Meharry as a leading national educator of African Americans with M.D. and D.D.S. degrees and Ph.D. degrees in the biomedical sciences.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Related statistics and interview requests can be fulfilled by contacting Mike Brewer of Seigenthaler Public Relations: (615) 327-7999 or [email protected]



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