DOT: Safety programs, equipment saved thousands of lives in 2009

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The U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled two new National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that estimate that seatbelts saved more than 72,000 lives during the five years between 2005 and 2009, while child restraint systems and minimum drinking age laws saved hundreds more during 2009.

“Safety is my number one priority,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We are working every day to make our highways, rails and skies safer, and these reports show the vital importance of our programs to promote the use of seatbelts and child restraint systems.”

According to the reports “Lives Saved in 2009 by Restraint Use and Minimum Drinking Age Laws” and “Seat Belt Use in 2010 – Overall Results,” the use of seatbelts in 2009 saved an estimated 12,713 lives, while motorcycle helmet use prevented an additional estimated 1,483 deaths. In addition, the report estimates that between 2005 and 2009, motorcycle helmets saved 8,328 lives.

The report also estimates that 623 lives were saved in 2009 by 21-year-old minimum drinking age laws, and that 309 toddlers were saved (aged 4 and under) because of child restraints. The report includes a breakout of estimated lives saved in 2009 by state due to various safety systems and equipment.

“As impressive as these figures are, they could be, and should be, even more impressive,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told a gathering of state highway safety officials attending a meeting of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “If we had 100 percent compliance for seatbelt and motorcycle helmet use, we would have saved an additional 4,420 lives in 2009.”

Referencing NHTSA’s latest seatbelt use survey, Strickland also noted that the national seatbelt use rate is slowly climbing toward full compliance, reaching an all-time record of 85 percent in 2010, a full percentage point higher than in 2009. He called on states to keep up their efforts to increase seatbelt use in their states. NHTSA estimates that a one percentage point increase in national safety belt usage results in savings of 220 lives each year.