Seat Belt Use is Increasing, Are you Wearing Yours?

By Eric G Braun, Senior Writer, USRW

Congratulations to those of you that made putting on a seat belt second nature and a habit when on the road. And for those who still don’t wear one, what are you waiting for? Seat belt use in the United States has reached its highest level since the Federal government began regular national surveys in 1994, per a study released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"The best way folks can protect themselves in their cars and big trucks is by wearing a seat belt,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Whether you’re a driver or passenger, in the front seat or back, the simple act of wearing a seat belt significantly reduces the risk of fatality and major injury in a crash.”

Vehicles are built safer and with more technology, however, sometimes the technology can be more of a nuisance and distraction. “Vehicles have many more safety features today than ever before, but there is nothing more important than the simple seat belt,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “We are encouraged by this progress, but with so many people still dying in crashes because they are not wearing their seat belts, we will not rest until we reach 100 percent.”

Even with a higher belt use, nearly half of the people killed in crashes in 2015 were not wearing their seat belt. When used properly, lap/shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent, and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.

There’s always that argument where being thrown from the vehicle saves lives where being restrained would have meant a fatality. There may be some merit to that argument, but the numbers don’t coincide. Seat belts saved nearly 14,000 lives during 2015 alone, and an estimated 345,000 lives since 1975.  The nation’s chief auto safety agency credits State legislators for enacting strong laws, and our nation’s police officers for strong enforcement of those laws, especially during the annual national Click It or Ticket campaign.

Also important was the agency’s decades-long focus on the issue, including the renowned “Vince and Larry” crash test dummy public service campaign of the 80’s and 90’s. This progress is the result of persistent effort by a wide range of safety partners, including the U.S. Congress which provided resources such as incentive grants and support for enforcement, and state highway safety officials who mobilized and organized state enforcement and education campaigns. Others like public health organizations  raised awareness and the auto and insurance industries  supported seat belt advocacy efforts.

The use of seatbelts appears to be a demographic issue. Seat belt use is higher in the West than in the other regions of the U.S., and seat belt use continued to be higher in the States with primary belt use laws. Thirty-four states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants, while 15 states have secondary laws. In many of these states, the law is primary for younger drivers and/or passengers.

If the numbers don’t convince you, talk to a friend or family member that works in Emergency Services, they can give you first hand advice about the memories they try to forget.