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Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Over Two-Thirds of Young Drivers Killed at Night Are Not Wearing Seat Belts
Over two-thirds of young drivers and passengers killed in nighttime car crashes were not wearing seat belts. Although seat belt use actually is rising slightly nationwide, fatality figures published recently offered a somber contrast as law enforcement launched its annual pre-Memorial Day drive to encourage Americans to buckle up.
The government said that total belt use rose to 82 percent last year, up from 81 percent in 2006. Twelve states, led by Hawaii and Washington, had rates of 90 percent or better. Only Arkansas, Massachusetts and New Hampshire were below 70 percent.
But the news was hardly all encouraging.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that of drivers and passengers between the ages of 16 and 20 who were killed in car crashes at night in 2006, sixty-eight percent were unbuckled. Of the young motorists and passengers who were killed during daylight hours, 57 percent were not wearing seat belts.
The problem is more than just with teens. Through the age of 44, the percentage of unbuckled drivers and passengers who died at night is well up in the 60s. It drops to 52 percent for people 55-64 and 41 percent for those older than that.
During this year's "Click It or Ticket" publicity campaign through June 1, safety officials say they are emphasizing seat belt use by young people between 16 and 20. Police will be issuing tickets to motorists who fail to wear their seat belts. This message will be supported by a $7.5 million advertising campaign.
A senior at Calvin Coolidge High School in Washington, Gabriela Sazon, believes from personal experience. But she also comprehends the problem among teenagers in general.
When their car flipped on its side on a rain-slicked road, two years ago, she and her mother avoided injuries by wearing their seat belts.
Peer pressure can sometimes play a role in teens not buckling up. "They don't want to seem like a nerd around their friends," Sazon said.
NHTSA administrator Nicole Nason said that teenagers often bring a "combination of inexperience and fearlessness" when they fail to buckle up in their cars. "It's a deadly combination," she said.
According to Nason, the agency is urging states to adopt licensing programs for new drivers that prevent them from driving with other teenagers in the car. She added that carloads of teens traveling together often create distractions for the driver and increase the safety risks.
Anne McCartt, a researcher with the Virginia-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pointed out that seat belt use at night tends to be much lower across all age groups.
At night, fatal crashes involving teenagers are more likely to involve risk factors such as alcohol, she said, so the failure to wear a seat belt "may be part of a more general atmosphere of risk-taking."
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