A record 82 percent of Americans wear their safety belts while driving or riding in their vehicles, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta announced at the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) National Conference, in Washington D.C.
According to a scientific survey by the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, between 2004 and 2005, 10 percent of non-users adopted the habit of buckling their safety belts, Mineta said.
“The fact that safety belts save lives is starting to click with the American people,” Mineta said. “With safety belt usage at a record high 82 percent, we are on the road to a safer America. And today, we are closer than ever to reaching our final destination.”
In the past five years, safety belt use has increased steadily from 71 percent in 2000 to 82 percent this year, he noted.
At a rate of 82 percent, Mineta said, safety belts are preventing 15,700 fatalities, 350,000 serious injuries, and $67 billion in economic costs associated with traffic injuries and deaths every year. The increase in belt use over the past year alone has prevented 540 fatalities, 8,000 serious injuries, and $1.8 billion in economic costs, he added.
The Secretary said the success was due in large part to states that have passed primary safety belt laws. Twenty-one states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have primary safety belt laws that allow police officers to stop a motorist solely for belt violations. South Carolina will become the 22nd state with a primary law that takes effect in December.
Secretary Mineta also noted that a new program developed by the Administration makes incentives available for states that pass primary enforcement laws or achieve an 85 percent safety belt usage rate for two consecutive years. The amount of the incentive will be almost five times of a state’s annual base highway safety funding.
According to the NHTSA survey, primary law states averaged 85 percent belt use in 2005, compared to 75 percent in states with secondary laws.
Significant increases in belt use were documented in two categories targeted by NHTSA’s “Click it or Ticket” campaign – pickup truck occupants and rural communities. Both increased an average of three percentage points from 2004.
The survey also measured motorcycle helmet use in the U.S. Between 2004 and 2005, the use of DOT-approved helmets dropped from 58 percent to 48 percent nationwide. Helmet use in states without mandatory laws was 37 percent.
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