Seat-belt use on the rise in 37 states; national average usage hits all-time high

| 11/24/2004

More and more car doors are slamming followed by the sound of a seat belt clicking, providing music to the ears of state and federal officials who have been pushing for increased seat-belt usage for years.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced seat-belt usage rose between 2003 and 2004 in 37 states bringing the national average seat-belt usage to 80 percent, a record high. The recently released state-by-state statistics even revealed that two states broke the 95 percent usage rate – Arizona and Hawaii.

Earlier this year, Mineta announced that the nationwide survey conducted by NHTSA showed belt use rates have hit the milestone of 80 percent – the highest level in the nation’s history, according to a NHTSA press release. The “Click It or Ticket” campaign has produced consistent and significant increases in safety-belt use since 2001, the release stated. During that period, nationwide use rates increased from 73 percent to 80 percent, saving approximately 3,400 lives.

Despite the fact that seat-belt usage is on the rise in passenger vehicles, statistics have shown that truckers are traditionally one group with lower-than-average seat-belt usage.

A November 2003 federal study that found only 48 percent of all commercial vehicle drivers wear safety belts. A similar study conducted by OOIDA found approximately 50 percent of truckers don’t buckle up. In comparison, at the time of the studies, 79 percent of passenger vehicle drivers were reportedly using seat belts.

The recently released 2004 state-by-state statistics show where the biggest gains are being made. Leading the nation in safety belt use: Arizona 95.3 percent; Hawaii 95.1 percent; Washington 94.2 percent; Oregon 92.6 percent; and Michigan 90.5 percent. Registering more than 90 percent belt use in 2004 were California 90.4 percent and Puerto Rico 90.1 percent.

States with the lowest belt usage rates in the nation in 2004: Mississippi 63.2 percent; Massachusetts 63.3 percent; Arkansas 64.2 percent; South Carolina 65.7 percent; and Kentucky 66 percent. New Hampshire was the only state not to report a statistically reliable estimate of its belt use rate for 2004.

The five states achieving the greatest gains in safety belt use between 2003 and 2004 were: Arizona 9.1 percentage point gain; Nevada up 7.9 percentage points; Delaware up 7.4 percentage points; Michigan up 5.7 percentage points; and Virginia up 5.3 percentage points.

The new state-by-state statistics were released by the DOT as numerous states began conducting major crackdowns on safety-belt use for the Thanksgiving holiday period.

In contrast to the nationally representative sample survey released earlier by the department, these state-by-state statistics were derived from data collected by the states’ own surveys, conducted in accord with criteria established by NHTSA. The agency’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis then verified the survey methods and compiled the statistics.