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More Seat Belt Use, Fewer Car Crash Injuries

Oregon Most Buckled-Up State, North Dakota Least Secured
By
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.

Seat Belt Use: Best States, Worst States

States in which police can stop a car solely because seat belts are not being used have "primary enforcement laws." States in which police can only give a seat belt ticket if the car is stopped for some other violation have "secondary enforcement laws."

New Hampshire is the only state with no seat belt law. Since the CDC compiled these statistics in 2008, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have passed primary enforcement laws.

The table shows the percentage of state residents who in 2008 reported "always" wearing a seat belt whenever they are in a motor vehicle.

 

State/Territory

%

Primary Enforcement Law in 2008

Oregon

93.7

California

93.2

Washington

92.0

Hawaii

91.4

Texas

91.1

Puerto Rico

91.1

New Jersey

90.3

New Mexico

89.9

Maryland

89.6

Louisiana

89.2

Delaware

89.0

District of Columbia

88.7

Michigan

88.5

North Carolina

88.3

New York

86.2

Connecticut

86.0

Georgia

85.3

Alabama

85.2

Tennessee

84.7

Illinois

84.5

Guam

84.5

Iowa

84.4

Oklahoma

82.3

South Carolina

82.1

Indiana

81.8

Maine

81.6

Alaska

81.0

Virgin Islands

80.1

Kentucky

79.9

Mississippi

76.4

Subtotal

88.2

Secondary or no enforcement law

Florida

86.3

Nevada

85.8

Virginia

84.0

Arizona

83.1

Colorado

82.3

Vermont

81.9

Minnesota

81.7

Rhode Island

80.7

Massachusetts

80.4

Utah

79.7

West Virginia

79.4

Ohio

79.1

Idaho

76.6

Pennsylvania

74.7

Kansas

74.2

Missouri

73.1

Wisconsin

72.9

Arkansas

70.7

Nebraska

70.2

Montana

69.4

Wyoming

67.4

New Hampshire

66.4

South Dakota

59.7

North Dakota

59.2

Subtotal

79.2

Overall

85.0

 

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