Georgia defiantly remains the last state in the union not to require the use of seat belts in pickups, after a recently passed law in Indiana took effect this month mandating all pickup truck occupants, like those in other passenger vehicles, wear the proven safety restraints.
But one Georgian lawmaker, State Senator Don Thomas, has been championing a proposal for the past two years that would make pickup truck drivers equal to other motorists on Georgia's public roads when it comes to buckling up in the Peach State.
So far the proposed legislation has passed Georgia's state Senate but has yet to make it through the House of Representatives, after encountering opposition from Georgia's rural legislators. Their argument is that wearing a seat belt is an inconvenience for farmers and farm workers, who frequently hop in and out of their pickups as they tend the fields, and that there is too little traffic on Georgia's back country farm roads to worry about the risk of a collision with another vehicle.
When collisions do happen though, there is a very high chance that unbuckled truck occupants could be killed.
According to the Federal Government's National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nationally in 2005 4,649 pickup truck drivers and passengers were killed in traffic crashes. Of those, 1,377 (30%) were wearing safety belts, while 2,952 (63%) were not. It was unknown if the remaining 320 (7%) did or did not use restraints.
Sen. Thomas, educated as a doctor, is quick to point out that there isn't just a cost in lost lives, but also in health-care expenses for the injured. And last year USA Today quoted Georgia State Representative Calvin Hill estimating 5,000 serious injuries and $20-million in Medicaid expenses each year were, "directly attributed to people who do not buckle up in pickups."
Georgia is also missing out on $20.7-million dollars in federal highway funding assistance that's being withheld until the seat belt gap is closed. According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana received $15.7-million from the Feds after its law was passed.
What's turned out to be an inconvenience for Georgia's farmers has turned into a major inconvenience for Georgia's other taxpayers too.