Nationwide, seat belt use remained statistically unchanged, but motorcycle helmet use rose slightly in 2006, according to a newly released study by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Data from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) showed that seat belt use in the U.S. now stands at 81 percent, down slightly from the 2005 rate of 82 percent.
Regionally, seat belt use climbed to 90 percent in the West, up from 85 percent, and to 83 percent in the South, up from 82 percent. In the Northeast, seat belt use fell to 74 percent, down from 78 percent; and in the Midwest it dropped to 77 percent from 79 percent.
While Idaho currently has no primary seat belt law, the state’s seat belt usage rate stands at 79.8 percent, according to Mary Hunter with the Office of Highway Safety. She cautioned that in 2005 the remaining 20 percent of people not buckled up represented 60 percent of the people killed in traffic crashes. Deaths and injuries caused as a result of people not wearing seat belts cost Idahoans an estimated $575 million last year.
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), states with primary enforcement laws have lower fatality rates than states that don’t allow officers to enforce seat belt laws without first finding another traffic violation. In primary law states, the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled for 2000-2004 was 1.03 versus 1.21 in states without primary laws.
“Idaho has had a secondary seat belt law in effect for more than 20 years now, but it cannot be enforced until an officer can first find another traffic violation,” Hunter said.
“A seat belt can’t work if it isn’t on,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters. “Whatever it takes, we all need to do a better job making sure everyone chooses to buckle up.”
Peters noted that the DOT is working with states to promote seat belt use, providing more than $123 million in 2006 incentive grants to states with primary seat belt laws. NHTSA also coordinates the national “Click It or Ticket” law enforcement campaigns, which mobilize thousands of police agencies across the country to enforce state belt laws.
In June 2006, 24 states and the District of Columbia had primary seat belt laws, 25 had secondary laws and one state (New Hampshire) had a law that applied only to those younger than 18.
The latest NOPUS data shows also that 51 percent of motorcyclists in the U.S. now wear helmets, up from 48 percent in 2005. Motorcycle helmet use rose most dramatically in the West between 2005 and 2006 (from 50 percent to 72 percent). In the Northeast, helmet use rose from 42 percent to 47 percent. The Midwest use rate fell from 53 percent to 50 percent and in the South from 49 percent to 45 percent. The only helmets counted in the survey were those that comply with DOT standards.
Last year, 26 people were killed in motorcycle crashes in Idaho. While state law requires all motorcycle operators and passengers younger than 18 to wear a helmet, only 64 percent of those riders involved in collisions in 2005 complied.
NHTSA recently began to offer federal grants to states for programs to reduce the number of motorcycle crashes. This year, the agency will provide $6 million in grant funds to states for motorcycle safety training and motorist awareness programs.
In addition, the agency will create a public service announcement promoting helmet use and a consumer video for its Web site on how to choose a safe and well-fitting motorcycle helmet.
Among the survey’s conclusions were that seat belt use and motorcycle helmet use rates continue to be higher where state laws are stronger.
The NOPUS is conducted annually by NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. The survey provides the only probability-based observed data on seat belt, motorcycle helmet, child restraint and driver cell phone use in the United States.