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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

New Survey Shows Who—and Who Doesn't—Wear Seat Belts

Recently, four young Floridians lost their lives in three separate vehicle crashes. A common factor was that none of the deceased was wearing a seat belt—and officials say that sobering correlation between young adults and seat belt use that is not just a coincidence.

"It's a problem that brochures aren't going to fix," Lt. Mike Burroughs of the Florida Highway Patrol said. "And the same old methodologies that have been used in the past to get the message across are not going to work."

Drivers ages 19-25 are the biggest offenders when it comes to not buckling up, Burroughs said. Additional factors that affect seat belt use include whether it is a man or a woman in question, and what kind of vehicle is being driven. According to statistics, men and those riding in pickups are the worst offenders.

"(Seat belts) would have made a difference in all these crashes," said Burroughs. There was at least a 70 percent chance they would have been injured, but not killed, he added.

In Florida, seat belt use rose from 62 percent in mid-1993 to 81 percent in June 2006, according to a seat belt use study for the Florida Department of Transportation, thanks to efforts to enforce the state's adult seat belt law.

Last year, 1,444 drivers, or 62 percent, of the 2,325 drivers and passengers killed on Florida roads were not wearing seat belts, according to a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles report. That figure remained unchanged from 2004. The percentage of children ages 0 to 17 that perished in crashes because they were not employing safety equipment fell from 69 percent in 2004 to 57 percent in 2005.

Last year, across the nation, drivers more commonly used seat belts than passengers.

Those in vans and sport utility vehicles were more likely to wear seat belts, while those in pickups were the least likely. According to the Traffic Safety Administration, more people used seat belts in suburban areas, followed by urban locations and finally rural areas.

A 2003 Traffic Safety Administration survey showed that drivers' use of seat belts stemmed from fear of serious injury, and being reminded by something in the vehicle, such as a bell or light, to put on the belt.

The same study listed reasons drivers don't wear seat belts. The top ranked answers were because the motorists were in a rush, they forgot to put it on, or because they were only going a short distance.

The Traffic Safety Administration said that states with seat belt use enforcement laws have higher rates of seat belt usage.

Twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia had primary enforcement laws in place by July 2006, which means police officers can stop and ticket a person just for not wearing a seat belt.

Florida is not one of these states. Officers can only make a traffic stop if it is based on another violation, such as speeding. Florida Rep. Rich Glorioso (R- Plant City) hopes to change with a bill he filed in 2006, which would make not wearing a seat belt a primary offense.

"I feel strongly that this common sense change to the safety belt law in Florida will save lives, and the statistics from other states show this to be true," said Glorioso.

Since the mid-1990s, legislators have been trying to change Florida's seat belt law, originally passed in 1986. Burroughs said because seat belt use is not a popular issue, he has seen the bill fail before—yet hopes this year will be different.

"It's not a popular item," he said. "However, right now, traffic deaths among teens is a national pandemic. We read about it every day in the paper, but nobody wants to take the unpopular stance of making seat belts a primary law. It's going to take a grassroots effort and campaign put on by the motoring public."

According to an aide for Glorioso, Cori Cuttler, seat belt use strikes some as not of governmental interference, but a matter of personal preference. However, she said The Preusser Research Group estimates that changing the seat belt law could reduce the state's Medicaid costs by $117.8 million over the next 10 years.

"Your personal responsibility ends when the rest of society must pay for you," Cuttler said.

Find out more about getting a Florida Driver's License and safe driving techniques at

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