Six Out of 7 Drivers Use Seat Belts: CDC

But stronger laws needed in some states to get scofflaws to buckle up, save lives, report suggests

TUESDAY, Jan. 4, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Up to 85 percent of American adults now wear seat belts, an increase that translates into many fewer injuries and deaths on the road, federal health officials said Tuesday.

When the first state law requiring seat belts was passed in 1982, only 11 percent of Americans bothered to wear them. But now, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly six out of seven drivers buckle up.

"What we have here is good news," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said during a noon press conference Tuesday.

"Wearing a seat belt on every trip has become the norm in America, and that is associated with a steady fall in injuries and deaths from motor vehicle crashes," he said.

Health officials noted that the country still has a ways to go in promoting seat belt use, however. One in seven drivers still don't buckle up, and among children and young people aged five to 34 in the United States, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death.

More than 2 million adults are treated each year for injuries by motor vehicles in emergency departments, and nearly 34,000 people of all ages died from these injuries last year, Frieden noted.

Wearing a seat belt is the best way of preventing such deaths and injuries in crashes, Frieden said. In fact, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of being killed or seriously injured in a crash by about 50 percent, the CDC reports.

The report appears in the Jan. 4 edition of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Other findings from the report:

  • Seat belt use varies state-to-state, from a high of 94 percent who buckle up in Oregon to a low of 59 percent in North Dakota.
  • Seat belt use is highest (88 percent) in states where the police can pull drivers over for not wearing a seat belt. Seat belt use drops to 79 percent in states where a ticket can only be given if the driver was pulled over for another traffic violation.
  • If all states allowed drivers to be pulled over for seat belt violations alone, researchers estimate that another 7.3 million Americans would have buckled up in 2008.
  • The 19 states without laws allowing people to be pulled over for seat belt violations accounted for nearly half of the drivers and passengers who don't wear seat belts.
  • Seven states report that 90 percent of their citizens wear seat belts, including Oregon, California, Washington, Hawaii, New Jersey and Texas. New Hampshire is the only state that has no seat belt law.

To increase seat belt use and to reduce injuries the CDC recommends:

  • Seat belt laws that cover all drivers and passengers in the front and back seats.
  • Wearing seat belts on every trip.
  • Requiring everyone in the car to buckle up.
  • Making sure children use seat belts, booster seats, or car seats, whichever is appropriate.
  • Having all children 12 and under sit in the back seat.

For the study, the analyzed data from the 2009 National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program injuries treated in emergency departments nationwide, as well as 2008 federal data on self-reported risk behaviors.

CDC officials noted that increased seat belt use could save not only lives, but untold billions lost to injuries and time lost from work.

In 2005, car crashes cost Americans $11 billion in injuries and lost productivity, according to Frieden. "We cannot afford to continue to lose the money and lives that are being lost to motor vehicle crashes," he said.

More information

For more information on safe driving, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Jan. 4, 2011, teleconference with: Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., Director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Jan. 4, 2011, CDC report: Vital Signs: Nonfatal, Motor VehicleOccupant Injuries (2009) and Seat Belt Use (2008) Among Adults -- United States
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