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U.S. Seat Belt Use Climbs To New High

Remember the old commercials with the crash test dummy hurtling unbuckled through the car windshield?  Those ads, which were targeted toward getting people to use seat belts, have gone the way of the ivory billed woodpecker.  Nevertheless, statistics show that people are buckling up at a record rate.

According to figures just released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 86% of U.S. motorists are using seat belts.  Compare it to 58% of motorists buckling up 1994. This record number has played a big part in the dramatic lessening of crash fatalities in the past ten years.

In response to the increase in seat belt use, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood issued a statement saying, “When it comes to driving safely, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and your family is to use a seat belt.” LaHood says his organization will push to increase seat belt use even more during the impending holiday season, which traditionally sees an increase in auto accidents.

Part of the rise in U.S. seat belt use is credited to the South, which has seen a significant increase in the past few years.  The region has historically shunned seat belts, but the figure has risen from 80% to 85% in the past year.  This increase is attributed to law enforcement efforts to enforce seat belt laws.  Washington is the state with the highest seat belt use at 97.5%, and Massachusetts comes in at the bottom with only 73.2% of motorists buckling up.

All U.S. states except New Hampshire now require motorists to wear seat belts.  Of those states, 32 of them make non-seat belt use a primary offense, which allows law enforcement to pull over a driver and issue a citation for non-compliance.  In states where it’s a secondary offense, it can only be cited in conjunction with another offense, such as speeding.

The NHTSA estimates that a 1% rise in the use of seat belts saves 220 lives yearly and prevented approximately 72,000 fatalities between 2005 and 2009.  Last year’s traffic fatalities totaled 32,310.