Stronger Action Needed to Accelerate Lifesaving Safety Belt Laws in States

July 30, 2009

Today 20 States – Nearly 25 Percent of U.S. Population – Still not Covered by Primary Belt Laws a Quarter Century after First State Law Adoption

WASHINGTON, July 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — More work is needed if lifesaving primary safety belt enforcement laws are to continue spreading across the United States, said two organizations working to get 20 “hold-out” states to adopt the important legislation. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Safety Council made the comments today – just days after the 25th anniversary of New York adopting the groundbreaking legislation – as they reaffirmed their support for proposed federal legislation that would condition Highway Trust Fund money awards on whether a state enacts primary enforcement legislation.

Primary enforcement laws allow officers to stop and cite a motorist for not wearing a safety belt without observing an additional traffic violation. Strengthening these laws to primary status so they can be enforced like virtually all other traffic laws has been shown to increase usage rates to as much as 98 percent. Although more states than ever now have primary enforcement laws, nearly 25 percent of the country’s population is still not covered.

“We’ve made tremendous progress,” said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers President and CEO Dave McCurdy. “The bonus incentive program included in the 2005 surface transportation bill resulted in 13 states passing primary enforcement laws, expanding coverage of these life-saving measures by nearly 90 million more Americans.”

“This year alone, Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin passed primary belt laws, bringing the total to 30 states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico,” McCurdy added. “That brings this important coverage to 76 percent of the U.S. population.”

The proposed House Surface Transportation Authorization would withhold a percentage of Highway Trust Fund monies, beginning in October 2012, from states that do not enact these lifesaving laws, a proposal supported by the Alliance and the NSC.

“The provisions to increase primary seat belt use, included in the draft House bill, are necessary components of the next Transportation Reauthorization Act,” said Janet Froetscher, President and CEO of the National Safety Council. “We thank Chairman Oberstar, Ranking Member Mica and the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for their leadership in including these lifesaving provisions in the bill.”

States with primary enforcement laws have higher usage rates. Of the 15 jurisdictions (13 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) that had belt usage rates of 90 percent or higher in 2008, 14 have primary enforcement laws. Additionally, increased safety belt use by adults provides younger passengers with a positive example, encouraging them to be restrained as well.

“Studies show that crash fatalities could be prevented if more states enacted and enforced primary belt laws,” McCurdy said. “Expanding primary enforcement laws to more states, and increasing usage rates is a straightforward way to save many lives – estimated to be nearly 1,700 annually – that are claimed in the nation’s highway motor vehicle traffic crashes.”

Figures from 2008 show that nationally, 83 percent of vehicle occupants used safety belts during daylight hours. Safety belts are estimated to save over 15,000 lives annually and help reduce the financial burden of medical care on communities.

While there is progress, the present adoption rate would mean another two decades before citizens in all states are protected by primary enforcement laws.

“This month, as we observe the 25th anniversary of New York State adopting the country’s first state seat belt use law, we again stress the need to accelerate the adoption of these lifesaving laws,” McCurdy said.

Provisions for withholding a percentage of Highway Trust Fund monies from states have worked effectively to accelerate legislation and create uniform safety policy across all 50 states. Congress has used this approach previously to encourage states to adopt a minimum legal drinking age of 21 (1984), zero alcohol tolerance laws for youth under 21 (1995), and 0.08 percent per se blood alcohol content laws (2000).

    Wade Newton
    Auto Alliance
    (202) 326-5571

    John Ulczycki
    National Safety Council
    (630) 775-2160

SOURCE The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers

Source: newswire

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