Sunday, September 21, 2008

Seatbelt Use Reaches Record Level

More Americans are buckling up than ever before. That's good news! It means our great drives are also safe drives.

According to the U. S. Department of Transportation, 83 percent of vehicle occupants are using seatbelts during daylight hours, slightly more than last year. Simply, the seconds it takes to buckle up can mean the difference between life and death.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that some 270 lives are saved for every one percent increase in belt use.

The 83% seatbelt usage is an average. According to the report, 84% of passenger car occupants are buckling up, and even more people - 86 percent, are buckling up in vans and SUVs. The lowest seatbelt use is in pickup trucks, where occupants buckled up 74 percent of the time. So, come on you truck drivers and passengers -- get with the program. You won't be any less macho if you buckle up, but you will travel a whole lot smarter.

DOT also broke down the seatbelt numbers by geography. The highest use was reported in the West (93 percent), and the lowest in the Midwest and Northeast (79 percent). The South was in between at 81 percent.

A growing number of states now have what's called 'primary' seat belt laws. That means you can be stopped and cited for not buckling up. In states with 'secondary' seat belt laws, you have to be stopped for something else, and the law enforcement officer can add in the seat belt violation. So, it's not surprising that in 'primary' states, seat belt use is around 13% higher than in 'secondary' states -- 88 percent vs. 75 percent).

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. Also makes sense -- we travel faster on highways. Okay, maybe not in rush hour, on the I-405 in Los Angeles, or on New York City's Long Island Expressway, which locals call 'the world's longest parking lot'.

Remember, these figures are for daylight use. I wonder why NHTSA doesn't collect information on night-time use of seatbelts. And I also wonder how different that would be.

If the numbers here aren't enough, you can see the full report on the NHTSA website.

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