Seat belt use has become the norm, with 85 percent of U.S. drivers reporting they always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a motor vehicle, according to a study released Jan. 4 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Still, rates of self-reported seat belt use vary widely by state, with a high of 94 percent in Oregon and a low of 59 percent in North Dakota.
"A simple step that most drivers and passengers in the United States already take--buckling their seat belts--cuts in half the chance of being seriously injured or killed in a crash," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said in a press statement. "Yet about one in seven adults do not wear a seat belt on every trip. If everyone in the vehicle buckled up every time, we could further reduce one of the leading causes of death."
Besides saving lives and reducing injuries, seat belt use helps keep car insurance rates down by reducing the costs of accidents.
The study, reported in the CDC's "Vital Signs," found that states with primary enforcement laws, which let police officers pull cars over and issue tickets solely because drivers and passengers are unbelted, have higher rates of seat belt use than states with secondary enforcement laws, which only allow officers to issue tickets to drivers who have been pulled over for violating another law.
About one-third of U.S. adults lived in states with secondary enforcement laws in 2008, but residents of those states accounted for 49 percent of unbelted drivers and passengers. Nineteen states do not have primary enforcement seat belt laws.