Study: Seat belt use hits record high in RI

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A 2013 study released by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation shows that 86 percent of local drivers are wearing their seat belts, the highest number ever recorded in Rhode Island.

This is a significant increase over last year’s rate of 78 percent. In addition, the number of unbuckled people killed in crashes has decreased by 50 percent over the last five years.

The study, conducted by Preusser Research Group of Connecticut in December 2013, observed 10,484 drivers and passengers at 124 sites around the state. Driver seat belt use was highest in Kent County (86 percent), while the greatest percentage of passengers were buckled up in Bristol County (88 percent).

RIDOT attributes these gains in part to last year’s passage of the primary seat belt law – as well as to increased enforcement through the Click it or Ticket program, and to public awareness campaigns conducted by RIDOT and its safety partners.

Enacted in 2011 and made permanent in 2013, the primary belt law allows law enforcement officers to cite motorists at any time for not buckling up. Under the prior statute, drivers had to be pulled over for another offense before they could be ticketed for not wearing a safety restraint. The law carries a $40 fine for all unbuckled drivers and passengers age 8 and older in the vehicle. Drivers may be fined $75 if a child age 7 or younger is unrestrained.

Since the law took effect, RIDOT has provided funding to state and local police departments to increase awareness and enforcement of the law. The number of citations issued in 2013 was the highest in six years.

Although encouraging, the study shows that there is still room for improvement. There is sitll a gap between the sexes in seat belt use, with females far more likely to buckle up when driving (88 percent versus 81 percent of male drivers). Additional emphasis also must be placed on occupants in pickup trucks, who showed the lowest usage overall. Just 72 percent of drivers and 68 percent of passengers were observed using a safety restraint.

Buckling up is one of the most effective things that drivers and passengers can do to protect themselves in a crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts saved more than 72,000 lives from 2004 to 2009. Worn correctly, safety restraints reduce the risk of fatal injury for a front-seat occupant by 45 percent, and the risk of a moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.

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