Groups seek Ga. car tag hike for trauma care

ATLANTA -- A group of medical and business organizations is launching a campaign Wednesday to try to convince voters to support a $10 increase in car tags to fund a statewide network of trauma-care facilities.

While the state has more than 100 hospitals with some type of emergency room, just 16 have what medical experts classify as a trauma-care center. That's about half of what they say is needed.

As a result, Georgians die at a 20 percent higher rate from accidents like falls and car wrecks than the national average.

"We don't think Georgians should be dying more than the national average because they live in Georgia," said Dr. Dennis Ashley, chief of trauma care at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon. "Our legislators finally heard it."

In the last legislative session, a change in the constitution adding the tag fee to voters on the November ballot.
Supporters of constitutional amendment 2 hope the annual fee will raise $80 million to upgrade emergency rooms, buy helicopters and hire the trauma specialists to be on duty 24 hours each day.

At the beginning of the year, a law took effect adding $200 to speeding tickets for anyone caught driving more than 85 mph on a four-lane roadway or 75 mph on two lanes. But in the first eight months of the year, that program has only triggered $6 million in fines from 29,000 tickets, according to Susan Sports of the Department of Driver Services.

Plus, those fines don't automatically go to trauma care because the legislature could use the money for other purposes any time it chooses.

The coalition behind the Yes Amendment 2 campaign is kicking in more than $1 million. Television ads will begin airing in Atlanta Wednesday and in the rest of the state next month.

Medical professionals are frustrated that they lose 400-700 Georgians to accidents each year above what national averages would predict. The reason is the specialized trauma centers aren't spread evenly across the state so that patients can get there within the critical 60 minutes after an accident.

"Sometimes, I'll get patients from South Georgia as far as two hours away," Ashley said. "Even if we have room for them and we can take them, that's a long way to go."

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