People who won't buckle their seat belts are costing the rest of America millions of dollars in medical bills.
A Department of Transportation study released Thursday found that it cost about $5,000 more for hospital care for people who didn't buckle up, compared with those who did - an additional charge of $68 million in just seven states studied.
"Remember, very little of these costs are paid by patients," Transportation Secretary Federico Pena said. "They are paid by our premiums through private insurance companies, or by the taxpayer . . . through Medicaid and Medicare."
Dr. Ricardo Martinez, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said, "I'm saying, buckle up and get your hand out of my wallet." He described people who won't use belts as "writing checks" they expect the rest of the country to make good.
The study was released as Pena began a campaign to get states to pass primary seat belt laws. Primary laws, now in effect in 10 states, allow police to stop a car if the occupants are not using belts. Most states have secondary laws, in which police can check seat belt use only if they stop a car for some other reason.
The analysis also confirmed previous government studies showing that seat belt use saves lives - estimating that two-thirds of those …