Public is slowly complying with seat belt laws
It seems people are finally embracing the message that seat belts can – and do – save lives.
The Louisiana Highways Safety Commission release statistics this week that claim seat belt use in the state reached a record high of 79.3 percent this year, a factor officials believe is contributing to the state’s declining highway death rate. The 79.3 percent rate is an increase from last year’s 77.7 percent, which itself matched a previous all-time high.
Preliminary crash statistics for 2011 indicate that Louisiana ‘s highway death toll declined for the fourth consecutive year. Prior to the beginning of the decline in 2008, the number of traffic fatalities had increased most years since record keeping began.
According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injuries by 50 percent. A majority of the people killed in crashes in Louisiana were not buckled up. An estimated eight lives are saved in Louisiana for every one percentage point increase in seat belt use.
Seat belt use varied widely between regions of Louisiana as well as by type of vehicle driven and whether those surveyed were males or females. The highest rate of seat belt use by vehicle type was 85.5 percent for occupants of vans, followed by 82.9 percent for SUV occupants, 82 percent for car occupants, and 71.7 percent for pickup truck occupants.
Seat belt use in Louisiana has traditionally lagged behind the national average, which was 84 percent in 2011. Louisiana has what is called a “primary enforcement” law, meaning that officers can stop and ticket people they observe violating the seat belt law. Louisiana law requires drivers and front- and back-seat passengers to wear seat belts while a vehicle is in motion. NHTSA reports that states with primary enforcement laws, as Louisiana has, generally tend to have higher usage rates.
While safely buckling small children and youth is something most agree is important, some argue that adults should have the right to decide whether they wish to buckle up or not. Proponents of this train of thought often cite cases where seat belts actually contributed to a vehicle death, pinning the victim into a dangerous position while a vehicle flipped or caught fire.
Such cases are few and far between, though.
Even crashes that would otherwise see no or little injuries lead to death when the safety of a seat belt is ignored.
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