Politics & Government

Most teen motorists killed at night weren't wearing seat belts

WASHINGTON — Nighttime driving is three times deadlier than daytime driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported Monday, and teens bear the brunt of it.

One big reason: lower seatbelt use. In the 16-20 age group, 68 percent of those killed in nighttime accidents weren't wearing seatbelts. That was in 2006, the latest year for which U.S. fatalities have been analyzed.

Seatbelt use for all age groups — day and night — averaged 82 percent in 2007, according to NHTSA.

"This year we are placing special emphasis on our young drivers," said NHTSA administrator Nicole Nason, who launched the agency's latest Click It or Ticket campaign in Washington on Monday.

"Motor vehicle accidents continue to be the leading cause of death for teens. Clearly we need to do more," Nason said.

Her agency is pushing more seatbelt checkpoints by local and state police, especially at night.

From midnight to 3 a.m. is the real witching hour for drivers of all ages, NHTSA found. The fatality rate then is 18.56 per million miles driven, more than 20 times the daylight rate.

To make matters worse for teens, the beltless rate in fatal crashes goes up about 20 percent at night.

"When they turn 16, so many of these drivers are unbelted and their lives are shattered," said Jim McMahon, chief of staff of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. "These children could've been saved."

In 2006, 4,409 drivers ages 16 to 19 died in motor vehicle crashes. California had the highest number: 430. Texas came in second with 343, followed by Florida with 305.

"Seatbelt use is the best way to keep teenagers alive," Nason said. "Every time a ticket is written is one less time we have to knock on a parent's door and tell them their child isn't coming home."

Overall, the national picture was brighter. In 12 states and Puerto Rico, seatbelt use was 90 percent or higher in 2007, according to the NHTSA report released Monday. Hawaii had the highest use rate — nearly 98 percent.

California hit 94.6 percent, Texas 91.8 and Washington state 96.4.


More details on state-by-state U.S. seat belt use.

More information on day-night traffic safety.