More than 6.3 million adults were involved in police-reported motor vehicle crashes in 2001, resulting in more than 3 million injuries and health-care visits.
While most injuries do not result in permanent disability, the amount of time the injured lost from work is an important consequence of motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of injury death for Americans through the age of 65.
After a crash, more than 30 percent of drivers and passengers missed at least one day of work, with the time lost averaging 28 days, according to new research by investigators at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC). Of the $7.5 billion in annual productivity losses resulting from these injuries, $5.6 billion resulted from injuries to motor vehicle occupants who weren't wearing their seat belts.
"Lost Working Days, Productivity, and Restraint Use Among Occupants of Motor Vehicles That Crashed in the United States" is published in the October issue of Injury Prevention.
The researchers analyzed a nationally representative sample of 65,060 people aged 18-65 who were occupants in motor vehicle crashes from 1993 through 2001. These crashes are listed in the Crashworthiness Data System produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
People who were estimated to have been working at the time of their crashes, 32,748 in total, were chosen for analysis. They were divided into two groups: surviving occupants who were working before the crash, and fatally injured occupants estimated to have been working before the crash.
While most occupants in the group (58 percent) were protected by seat belts, 17 percent were not wearing seat belts, and another 2.5 percent wore seat belts improperly (data were missing for 22.5 percent of those studied).
Use of a seat belt led to a reduction of injury severity and a reduction in lost work days. Unrestrained occupants lost an average of 96 work days, while occupants who were properly protected lost an average of 10 work days.
Injured motor vehicle occupants cumulatively lost 60.8 million days of work, resulting in direct annual productivity losses of more than $7.5 billion. The cost of productivity losses is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate of median daily earnings for full-time workers over 16 years of age.
"Because our study was not restricted to hospitalized trauma patients, we were able to estimate national productivity losses," says Dr. Beth Ebel, a University of Washington (UW) assistant professor of pediatrics and principal investigator of the study. "The magnitude of these losses raises questions about how they might be prevented. The universal use of seat belts would potentially save $5.6 billion of lost productivity. Effective strategies to increase seat belt use, such as primary enforcement seat belt laws, could yield considerable economic gains."
In addition to Ebel, the study was conducted by Chris Mack, M.S, a research consultant at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center; Paula Diehr, Ph.D., a UW professor of biostatistics and health services; and Dr. Frederick Rivara, a UW professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of epidemiology.