Seat belt use among Idaho drivers and passengers improved to an average of 80, up from 76 percent last year, according to a report from the Office of Highway Operations and Safety (OHOS).
Despite the significant improvement, Idaho remains below the national average for seat belt use and ranks nearly last among the 10 Western states.
Statistics indicate that Idaho’s traffic fatalities in 2005 included 126 motorists who were not wearing their seat belts – up from 106 in 2004. While most Idahoans are buckling up, the remaining 20 percent who do not account for 60 percent of traffic fatalities.
In addition to those killed, 452 unbelted Idahoans were critically injured in 2005 traffic crashes. The economic impact in Idaho for motorists killed or injured because they were not wearing seat belts was $575 million.
”Here's a case where a minority of Idahoans who refuse to buckle up get the majority to pay for the damage that results from their crashes,” said Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs, for AAA Idaho and co-chair of the Idaho Seat Belt Coalition.
“Every Idahoan, not simply the person involved in the traffic crash, picks up the tab, paying 85 percent of the medical bills associated with car crashes through insurance premiums, county, state, and federal taxes, and increased charges for medical services.”
The Idaho Seat Belt Coalition was created to help increase seat belt use and reduce deaths and injuries on Idaho roads. According to OHOS, an average of six people are either killed or seriously injured every day in Idaho traffic crashes.
In the event of a life-threatening crash, seat belts reduce the risk of people being killed in passenger cars by 45 percent and in pickup trucks by 65 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“The seat belt is a free piece of safety equipment. Of all the safety features added to vehicles since 1960, one – the safety belt – accounts for more than half of all lives saved,” said Capt. Ben Wolfinger, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and coalition co-chair.
“Buckling up remains your single best defense against death or injury in the event of a crash. Idaho’s seat belt use rate lags behind those of its neighboring states, and we hope to see that change soon.”
ITD and the state’s public health districts conducted Idaho’s official seat belt usage survey in June following an extensive education and enforcement campaign. The survey found that nearly 83 percent of Idahoans use seat belts in passenger cars, 84 percent buckle up in vans and SUVs, while 69 percent buckle up in pickup trucks. Usage rates across the state varied and are reported by region:
“Progress is being made through education and highly committed law enforcement;
However, Idaho is still losing too many lives and incurring too many costs due to people not buckling up,” said OHOS’s Mary Hunter. “Idaho’s 2005 traffic fatality rate was 26 percent higher than the U.S. rate – 1.84 per 100 million annual vehicle miles traveled, compared to 1.46, for the U.S.”
Idaho law requires everyone in a vehicle to wear safety restraints, regardless of where they are seated. Between May 15 and June 4, law enforcement agencies statewide issued almost 6,500 seat belt citations and 130 child restraint citations in an effort to get people to buckle up.
Idaho ranks nearly last in seat belt use rate for Western states