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Idaho awarded $480,000 to increase seat belt use

Idaho will receive nearly a half-million dollars from the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) under a new grant program to increase safety belt use.

Seat belt use among Idahoans reached an all-time high in 2003, largely through concerted efforts of the Idaho Legislature, U.S. DOT and the Idaho Transportation Department’s Office of Highway Safety (OHS). An estimated 72 percent of Idahoans buckle their belts, up by 9 percent from the previous year. That translates into fewer lives lost in car crashes.

Seat belt use in passenger cars increased to 77 percent, while 76 percent of the passengers in vans and sport utility vehicles were buckled up. Crashes claimed 216 lives in 2002, according to the OHS. Roughly half of the 135 victims who were not properly restrained likely would have survived if they had been wearing seat belts.

Idaho lawmakers doubled the fine in 2003 for not wearing a seat belt and not ensuring compliance by all occupants in their vehicles.

U.S. DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced Thursday that 47 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico will share $36.4 million in NHTSA grants for states that develop innovative projects to increase safety belt use.

“Safety belts are the most effective safety device in a car. They prevent people from getting killed in crashes,” Mineta said. “These grants provide incentives to states to enact and enforce laws that promote use and educate people about the effectiveness of safety belts.”

Mineta said that safety belts also save money. Injuries to unbuckled occupants cost this country roughly $18 billion each year in medical care and lost productivity.

According to NHTSA, safety belts are the most effective safety device in vehicles, and their increasing use has saved more than 164,750 lives since 1975. In 2003, safety belt use in the United States reached an all-time high of 79 percent, in part because of high visibility enforcement programs funded by NHTSA.

The latest grant program seeks to encourage new approaches to further increase safety belt use, with a major focus on high visibility enforcement of safety belt laws, coupled with public information and education.

In addition to the $36.4 million, Congress has directed the department to use $10 million in grant funds to purchase advertising to air during safety belt enforcement mobilization campaigns.

“Safety belt use can prevent injury and death. We know that enforcement of belt laws that is advertised and highly visible increases belt use,” said NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey W. Runge, M.D.

The innovative project grants were awarded competitively. All 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico were eligible to apply. New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming did not apply for the grants. The amounts for individual state fiscal year 2004 grants range from $250,000 to more than $3.4 million.

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