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Thumbs down: Too many motorists are failing to buckle up

Nov. 20, 2013 @ 07:53 AM

Seat belts reduce serious highway crash injuries and deaths by about 50 percent, researchers say.

But still many drivers and passengers fail to use them consistently.

Nationally, seat-belt use has been over 80 percent for much of the past decade, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated it at about 86 percent for 2012. But that still leaves about 15 percent of the drivers and passengers unbuckled, and even more in our region.

West Virginia had an 89-percent use rate in 2008, but that has fallen off in recent years to about 84 percent last year. The rate in Kentucky and Ohio was slightly lower at 83.7 percent and 82 percent, respectively. So there is plenty of room for improvement.

Also studies show younger drivers and passengers, as a group, are even less likely to use their seat belts.

Area law enforcement agencies will step up enforcement on seat-belt use over the next few weeks, and it is important to remember that not wearing a seat belt is now a “primary” offense. That means motorists can be stopped and cited for that infraction alone.

“If the officer drives by you, he looks over and you don’t have your seat belt on, that’s a cause to stop you,” Huntington Police Capt. Mike Albers said last week. The state’s goal is to reach 92 percent compliance, and about 16 states have achieved rates of over 90 percent. So it can be done.

Highway fatalities take more that just an emotional toll. They also have an estimated $40 billion financial impact each year in medical, work loss and other costs.

It makes sense to buckle up for your own safety and to make the highways safer and less costly for everyone.