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Increased Seat Belt Use Could Save Many More Lives

by STAFF WRITER
Published May 14, 2009
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When you travel this spring and summer, remember to buckle up. Seat belt use has saved thousands of lives and evidence continues to accumulate that higher seat belt use has even more potential to save lives. A United States Department of Transportation study estimates that 1,652 lives could be saved and 22,372 serious injuries avoided each year on America’s roadways if seat belt use rates rose to 90 percent in every state. The new research report, based on data from 2007, also estimates that seat belts saved a surprising 15,147 lives in 2007. The study’s findings were released as the Department of Transportation launched its “Click It or Ticket” nationwide enforcement campaign. “Wearing a seat belt costs nothing and yet it’s the single most effective traffic safety device ever invented,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We want to let the American people know that by failing to wear your seat belt, you not only risk serious injury or death, you also risk getting a ticket.” The “Click It or Ticket” campaign is set to run from May 18 to May 31. The mobilization, expected to involve more than 10,000 police agencies, is supported by $8 million in national advertising funded through Congress and coordinated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The ads, which will air in English and Spanish, generate awareness of the increased enforcement efforts and the increased chance of getting a ticket if you are not buckled up. Ads will be aired on television, radio, and online. The estimated national seat belt use rate, which stood at 83 percent in 2008, is based on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Occupant Protection Use Survey. One of five Americans still fails to buckle up regularly. Speaking before students at a news conference at a suburban Virginia high school, Secretary LaHood underscored the worrisome reality that seat belt use rates are relatively low among teenagers. Of the 4,540 16-to-20 year old passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2007, 2,502 were unbelted at the time of the crash. Teen belt use rates are especially low at night. In 2007, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the 16 to-20 year olds killed in nighttime crashes were unbelted at the time. “Young people often think they’re invincible. Yet like everyone in a passenger vehicle, they’re tremendously vulnerable in the event of a crash,” Secretary LaHood said. The report examines the potential increase in lives saved, injuries prevented, and cost savings that would be realized if seat belt use hypothetically rose to at least 90 percent in all States. Seat belts saved an estimated 15,147 lives in 2007, when the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) national belt use estimate was 82 percent. Table 1 provides details of the estimated benefits that would have been realized if the 38 States and the District of Columbia that, in 2007, had a seat belt use rate below 90 percent had been able to increase their 2007 seat belt use up to 90 percent. An estimated 1,652 additional lives would have been saved had this increase in seat belt use occurred, and nearly 40,000 more nonfatal injuries would have been prevented, resulting in additional cost savings of about $5.2 billion dollars. These benefit estimates have been generated by NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA). The number of lives saved are estimates that are calculated using the effectiveness of seat belts, and have been produced by NCSA each year since 1975. In 2008, the NOPUS belt use estimate increased to 83 percent. Lives saved estimates for 2008 will be available upon release of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Annual Report File for 2008. The 1,652 additional lives saved in all 38 States and the District of Columbia resulting from the increase in seat belt use would represent an increase of 11 percent above the estimate of lives saved by seat belts (15,147) for 2007. Over 50 percent of the total benefits in lives saved (842 out of the total of 1,652 lives saved), non-fatal injuries saved (22,677 out of the total of 39,486 non-fatal injuries), and cost savings ($3.0 billion out of the total of $5.2 billion), seen from improving belt use in each State to 90 percent seat, would come from States that do not have primary seat belt laws at the time of this report.

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