New Data Show Massachusetts’ Seat Belt Use Second Lowest In The Nation

Safety Advocates Tie Low Belt Use To Weak Belt Law; $13.5 Million Available If State Passes Stronger Primary Law

BOSTON, Dec. 19 /PRNewswire/ — In response to new state seat belt use data released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign called on states with weak seat belt laws to pass a stronger law which will allow law enforcement officers to stop and issue citations to motorists based solely on a seat belt violation – referred to as a primary law. Massachusetts’ belt use rate of 64.8 percent is the second lowest in the nation.

According to the new data, states with the lowest seat belt use generally have weaker secondary laws, which means officers must witness a violation of another traffic law before stopping someone for not buckling up. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed primary enforcement laws. According to the NHTSA, seat belt use averages 11 percentage-points higher in states that have primary enforcement laws, which cover more than 60 percent of the U.S. population.

“The new data make clear that the difference between states with high seat belt use and states with low seat belt use is a primary seat belt law,” said Phil Haseltine, Executive Director of the National Safety Council’s Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign.

Haseltine pointed out that Massachusetts cannot only save lives by passing a primary seat belt law, it can also gain money. Under recent surface transportation legislation signed by the President into law on August 10th, states with primary seat belt laws are provided one-time grants equal to 4.75 times a state’s annual (Section 402) highway safety allocation.

Under the legislation, Massachusetts stands to gain $13,596,153 if it passes a primary enforcement seat belt law covering all passenger vehicles or, absent a primary enforcement law, achieves seat belt use of 85 percent or greater for two consecutive years. States having primary enforcement laws prior to December 2002 receive smaller one-time grants.

According to NHTSA, traffic crashes cost the nation $230 billion each year in medical expenses, lost productivity, property damage, and related costs. Massachusetts pays $6.3 billion of these costs. That is $988 for every resident each year, and about 74 percent of that cost is paid by citizens not involved in the crashes.

In 2004, 309 people died while riding in cars and light trucks in Massachusetts. Of these, 65 percent died while not wearing their seat belt.

“We are encouraged that these new data, combined with the funds available to states, will add an extra incentive for Massachusetts legislators to pass a primary seat belt law,” added Haseltine. “It’s time for our leaders to heed the call of law enforcement, the safety community, and most importantly, its citizens, to enact a law that has proven to save lives.”

The Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, a program of the National Safety Council, is a public/private partnership of automotive manufacturers, insurance companies, child safety seat manufacturers, government agencies, health professionals and child health and safety organizations. The goal of the Campaign is to increase the proper use of safety belts and child safety seats and to inform the public about how to maximize the lifesaving capabilities of air bags while minimizing the risks.

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