Survey shows more than three-fourths of Idahoans use seat belts
More than three-quarters of Idaho motorists regularly wear seat belts while driving, according to a survey conducted by Idaho’s public health districts for ITD’s Office of Highway Operations and Safety.
Motor vehicle occupants in southwest Idaho buckled more often than in any other region, at a rate of 93.2 percent. They were followed closely motorists in north-central Idaho where the observed rate was 87.4 percent. Motor vehicle occupants in southeast Idaho were observed wearing seat belts only 62.6 percent of the time.
ITD conducts the Idaho Observational Seat Belt Survey annually as a means of establishing a statewide average for seat belt usage. Sixteen counties were selected for the survey from a pool of 20 counties. Those counties represent more than 85 percent of Idaho’s population. Statewide, seat belt use averaged 77.9 percent in 2010.
The statewide average for 2009 was higher at 79 percent.
Seat belt use nationwide averaged 84 percent in 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“Wearing a seat belt can save your life,” said Mary Hunter, ITD’s highway safety manager. “Last year, 85 unrestrained people died in motor vehicle crashes statewide, and many of them were ejected from vehicles designed to protect them in a crash.
“If these people had buckled up, half of them would be alive today, “ she said.
The survey showed that seat belt use for pick-up truck occupants at 68.3 percent continues to be substantially lower than belt use for either passenger cars (80.2 percent) or vans and sport utility vehicles (82.3 percent).
Of the 16 counties surveyed, Ada County scored highest with 96.9 percent seat belt use, followed closely by Payette County at 91.3 percent, Canyon County at 90.2 percent, and Nez Perce County at 89 percent.
Counties with use rates below 70 percent included Bannock, Bingham, Bonneville, Cassia, Madison, and Minidoka – all in eastern or southern Idaho.
Of all the safety features added to motor vehicles since 1960, seat belts account for more than half of the lives saved, according to NHTSA. Buckling up remains the best defense against death or injury in the event of a crash.
In addition to those killed, 305 unbelted Idahoans were critically injured in 2009 traffic crashes.
“At least half of these injuries could have been prevented with a simple click of a seat belt.” Hunter said. “As seat belt use declines, costs to all Idahoans continue to increase.”
“The Idaho state budget pays an estimated $9 million in health care costs every year for traffic crash injuries that could have been prevented by seat belt use,” said Dr. Beth Ebel, director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center in Seattle. “Idaho taxpayers subsidize those individuals who choose not to wear their seat belts, despite the state law.”
Ebel and her colleagues analyzed crash rates and seat belt use in Idaho, and estimated medical cost of providing emergency and trauma care for belted and unbelted crash occupants.
Every Idahoan – not the person involved in the crash – pays 85 percent of the medical bills associated with car crashes through insurance premiums, county, state and federal taxes, and increased charges for medical services, according to a NHTSA report titled, “The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2000.”