Seatbelt use hits record level in 2008

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More Americans are buckling up than ever before, with 83 percent of vehicle occupants using seatbelts during daylight hours, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced Wednesday, Sept. 17. In 2007, 82 percent used seatbelts. “More and more Americans are realizing that the mere seconds it takes to buckle up can mean the difference between life and death,” Peters says.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that about 270 lives are saved for every one percent increase in belt use. Acting NHTSA Administrator David Kelly said a contributing factor for such historically high seatbelt use is high-visibility law enforcement efforts, such as the Department’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign. “We are committed to supporting state and local law enforcement in their front-line efforts to encourage belt use,” Kelly says.

According to the report, 84 percent of passenger car occupants are buckling up. Even more people, 86 percent, are buckling up in vans and SUVs, while pickup truck occupants buckled up 74 percent of the time. The report finds that safety belt use increased or remained level in every region of the country, with the highest use being reported in the West (93 percent), and the lowest in the Midwest and Northeast (79 percent). The South reported 81 percent.

The report reveals that states with primary belt laws are averaging about 13 percentage points higher for seatbelt use (88 percent) than states with secondary laws (75 percent); in primary belt law states, officers can issue a citation for a seatbelt violation alone, while in secondary law states, seatbelt citations are allowed only after a stop for another violation.

The report also notes that belt use on expressways is now at an estimated 90 percent, while belt use on lower-speed “surface” streets remains at 80 percent.

Seatbelt use and other data are collected annually by NHTSA as part of the National Occupant Protection Use Survey. The latest survey, conducted in June 2008, involved daylight observations of vehicle occupant behavior at more than 1,800 sites nationwide. To see the latest seatbelt report, go to www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811036.PDF.