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Seat belt usage reaches record high

WASHINGTON—Better than eight out of 10 drivers and passengers buckled up in 2005, a record high for U.S. seat belt use, transportation officials said Friday.

The compliance rate, now 82 percent, helped highway fatalities drop to the lowest rate since recordkeeping began 30 years ago, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said. He estimated that seat belts now annually save nearly 16,000 lives, prevent hundreds of thousands of injuries and save the economy $67 billion a year. A decade ago, just six in 10 drivers wore seat belts.

"The fact that safety belts save lives is starting to click with the American people," Mineta told a Mothers Against Drunk Driving convention in Washington, where he announced the latest figures. Drunken-driving fatalities also fell for the second straight year, he said.

In 2004, more than 42,000 Americans died of injuries related to traffic accidents.

Seat belt compliance was highest in the 21 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico that have passed laws permitting police to pull drivers over simply for not wearing a seat belt, Mineta said. In 28 other states, police enforce seat belt laws only after pulling drivers over for other offenses. New Hampshire requires only that minors wear seat belts or other restraints.

The recently passed federal transportation bill includes $500 million in cash incentives to states to pass tougher seat belt laws and/or to attain compliance rates of 85 percent or higher.

"We don't care how they get there as long as they get there," said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which oversees seat belt use and produced the latest report.

The study also found that less than half of motorcyclists now wear helmets that meet federal standards, down from nearly six in 10 riders last year. Only four of 10 riders in states without mandatory helmet laws wore helmets that met federal guidelines.

The National Occupant Protection Use Survey's findings are based on observations of about 400,000 motorists in the summers of 2004 and 2005.


States with primary seat belt laws that permit police to pull over noncompliant motorists for that offense alone are: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Puerto Rico.

States with secondary seat belt laws, enforced only when a driver is pulled over for some other offense, are: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

State without an adult seat belt law: New Hampshire.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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