A recent study conducted by the RAND Corporation finds that using a national approach to adopting traffic safety laws is more cost effective than when each state uses its own approach. The RAND Corporation is a non-profit research organization dedicated to developing solutions to public policy problems in order to make communities throughout the world safer and healthier.
The study relied on the use of a tool created by RAND researchers to help federal and state lawmakers make cost-effective decisions to improve traffic safety. This tool, the Motor Vehicle Prioritizing Interventions and Cost Calculator, is the first of its kind. It allows policymakers to examine 14 different traffic safety interventions (including alcohol ignition interlocks, universal motorcycle helmet laws, license plate impoundment and primary seat belt-use laws), and select the technique that has the greatest impact on safety for a given budget. The tool is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and is available on its website: www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/calculator/.
Researchers use the tool to analyze two different scenarios: (1) increasing federal funding by 10 percent, then allocating those funds to the states that need the most helmet; and (2) providing each state a 10 percent increase in funding. Interestingly, the study found that the first scenario would save 1,320 lives and prevent more than 225,000 injuries annually. The second scenario yielded less positive results—only 660 lives would be saved and 46,000 injuries prevented annually. Thus, Lisa Ecola, lead author of the study, and her co-researchers concluded that addressing safety at a national level is more cost effective than giving each state an increase in funds.
Currently, the federal government provides an astonishing $579 million annually to states for traffic safety programs. But according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, costs stemming from car accidents reached $242 billion in 2010. The RAND researchers investigated how an additional $57.9 million (a ten percent hike) would be spent most effectively.
Ultimately, the research suggests that the most effective intervention strategy would be to implement universal motorcycle helmet laws. Surprisingly, 30 states do not require motorcyclists to wear helmets.. By spending the additional ten percent in funding to ensure that all states enacted such laws, at least 745 lives would be saved every year. This would provide $122 in benefits to society for every $1 spent by the government, culminating in a total annual savings of $5 billion.
There are some disadvantages to implementing a national approach to traffic safety. By allocating funds to the states that need it most, states that have already implemented the most cost-effective policies would reap little, if any, benefit from the increase in funding.
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