In West Virginia, a predictable annual tradition occurs as the legislature wraps up its session: the state trauma providers receive an e-mail from the their state representatives and senators asking that we weigh in on whether to continue or repeal the state’s mandatory helmet law.As medical professionals, surgeons need to play a role in public policy decisions that relate to health care, including the debate over helmet laws.Belt use laws in only 34 states and the District of Columbia are primary, meaning police may stop vehicles solely for belt law violations.In other jurisdictions, police must have some other reason to stop a vehicle before citing an occupant for failing to buckle up.Child safety seat laws require children to travel in approved child restraints or booster seats and some permit or require older children to use adult safety belts.The age at which belts can be used instead of child safety seats differs among the states.In 2002, a Consortium of the American Board of Internal Medicine, The American College of Physicians, and The American Society of Internal Medicine partnered with the European Federation of Internal Medicine and developed a new Charter for Professionalism.
In some states, these laws cover front-seat occupants only, but belt laws in 29 states and the District of Columbia cover all rear-seat occupants, too.
Safety belt use can have implications in civil suits — 16 states allow the "safety belt defense," which can reduce damages collected by someone in a crash if the person failed to buckle up.
The reduction is permitted only for injuries that would have been prevented by a belt.
In some states, the reduction may not exceed a fixed percentage of the damages.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child safety seat laws.
Each decision to repeal a helmet law sparks political, legal, medical, and ethical debate.