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More Seat Belt Use, Fewer Car Crash Injuries

Oregon Most Buckled-Up State, North Dakota Least Secured
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 4, 2011 -- State laws that fine motorists and passengers who don't buckle up increase seat belt use and cut car crash injury rates, a CDC study finds.

Overall, six out of seven Americans say they always wear a seat belt when they're in a motor vehicle.

"Wearing a seat belt on every trip has become the norm in America, and that is related to a steady fall in deaths from motor vehicle crashes," CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said at a news teleconference.

In "click-it or ticket" states -- states that allow police to stop cars and ticket motorists for failure to use seat belts -- 88% of people say they always wear their seat belts when in a vehicle.

At the top of the list is Oregon, where nearly 94% of residents report always using seat belts.

But 18 states only give tickets for not wearing seat belts when a car is stopped for some other violation. In these states -- including New Hampshire, where there is no seat belt law -- only 79% of residents say they always wear their seat belts.

At the bottom of the list is North Dakota, where only about 59% of residents report always using seat belts.

Why wear seat belts? Data show that when there's a car crash, people wearing seat belts are about half as likely to be seriously injured, and about 45% less likely to die.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 2009 data, if all states had strict "click-it or ticket" laws:

  • 450 lives would have been saved.
  • 12,000 nonfatal injuries would have been prevented.
  • $1.6 billion in societal costs would have been saved.

Even though more Americans than ever are wearing their seat belts, rates of consistent seat belt use are much higher in Europe.

"The U.S. traffic fatality rate is far higher than in Europe, where people drive just as fast and drink just as much as we do," Frieden said.

Men, young adults, and people who live in rural areas are less likely to wear seat belts than are other Americans.

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