Law Reports

New CDC Report On Seat Belts

Seat belt laws were created fairly recently in the United States, and their implementation has varied across states and vehicles-the consequences of which have proven detrimental on numerous occasions. One night last fall, a father and his daughter were traveling down a San Diego highway when he suddenly lost control of the vehicle and swerved into oncoming traffic. His daughter was ejected and died at the scene of the accident. The vehicle, a 1956 Volkswagen Beetle, had never been outfitted with safety belts, nor was the father ever required by law to install any. Given the strong relationship between occupant protection and the use of safety belts his daughter may have survived the accident had she been wearing one.

An estimated 12,713 lives were saved by seat belts in 2009. Moreover, more than 72,000 fatalities were prevented between the years of 2005 and 2009, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In California, 574 of the 1,963 vehicle occupants killed in motor vehicle collisions in 2008 were not wearing any safety equipment, according to the California Highway Patrol’s accident statistics. As much as drivers who “buckle up” have improved the safety of motor vehicles, there were no laws mandating their use until New York enacted the first one in 1984. In the following years, every other state would follow, except for one: New Hampshire.

Seat belt laws fall into two categories: primary and secondary. In states where primary laws are in effect, law enforcement officials may stop a vehicle and issue a citation when either a driver or a passenger is not wearing a belt. An officer may only issue a citation for not wearing a safety belt after the vehicle has been pulled over for another violation in states with secondary laws. “Currently, 31 states, including California, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have primary seat belt laws, and 18 states have secondary laws”, explains Jim Ballidis, a California personal injury lawyer.

Compliance has been higher in states with primary laws than in those with secondary laws, according to NHTSA. A recent telephone survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed NHTSA’s finding: drivers in California, Oregon, and Washington-all states with primary laws-reported the highest seat-belt use in the country. Coming in first place was Oregon, where 94% of the people surveyed claimed to be seat-belt wearers, followed by California with 93.2%, and Washington State with 92%. Surprisingly, New Hampshire did not rank the lowest. Whereas 66.4% of people surveyed there said they always use a safety belt, only 59.2% of people in North Dakota reported the same.

As seat-belt use has increased, the number of vehicle occupant fatalities has decreased, according to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS). The recent CDC study noted a similar correlation between seat-belt use and injuries resulting from accidents: between 2001 and 2009, the injury rate among motor vehicle occupants decreased by 16%, while between 2002 and 2008, the number of people using buckling up rose from 81% to 85%.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 5-34 in the United States. Safety belts have the potential to reduce the risk of fatal injuries during a crash by approximately 45%, according to the CDC. Considering these two facts, everyone should buckle up.

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