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In our opinion: Teach, practice safe behavior to avoid preventable injuries

Published: Friday, June 1 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A new study ranks Utah 21st in the nation in injury-related fatalities.

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A recent study shows Utah fares slightly worse than average when it comes to the rate of fatalities from injuries due to preventable accidents. What should grab your attention about the study is that single word — preventable.

Data gathered by Trust for America's Health ranks Utah 21st among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for injury-related fatalities. The study looked at death rates attributed to a variety of different types of accidents, as well as injuries due to violence and participation in sports. The fatality rate across the nation is 57.9 deaths for every 100,000 people. In Utah, it is 64.8, or about 12 percent above the average.

The study, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, seeks to build support for laws that could reduce life-ending injuries, including statutes requiring helmet and seatbelt use. The study graded states on a 1-to-10 scale; Utah is among 12 states with a rating of five. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia received higher scores.

Utah was given credit for laws that require booster seats in cars for children up to 8 years old, and for requiring ignition locks on the cars of convicted of driving under the influence. Its rating was reduced by the lack of a primary seatbelt law, and for not requiring children to wear bicycle helmets.

Safety advocates will use the data to try to convince lawmakers to consider mandatory seatbelt and helmet laws, and there does seem to be a correlation between the existence of such regulations and rates of death from accidental injuries. The two states with the highest scores on the regulatory scale — California and New York — also have the lowest fatality rates.

But California and New York are of a far different political temperament than Utah, and that some people choose to live with less caution than that prescribed by the authors of the study, at the end of the day, is their own business.

But one fact emerges from the study that transcends a discussion of government regulation versus personal liberty. The data show that accidental injury is the leading cause of death among children and teenagers.

The principal responsibility to teach safe behavior to children rests with parents, not politicians. Acting safely is learned behavior, not behavior modified as a result of negative reinforcement from arrest or citation. Children taught at an early age to wear protective headgear will likely always wear it, regardless of whether it's a requirement of state law.

As such, the study is useful not so much as fodder for a political argument, but as factual reinforcement of something we already know — that teaching our children safe behavior, and practicing what we teach, will save lives.

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