More drivers buckling up
North Carolina has achieved the highest seat belt usage rate in state history, according to the annual seat belt survey completed in June.
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and North Carolina Transportation Secretary Tony Tata recently announced that currently 90.6 percent of drivers and passengers in the state are wearing their seat belts, up from 89.6 percent recorded in 2013.
"As the first state to launch the 'Click It or Ticket' campaign in 1993, North Carolina has long been recognized as a national leader in highway safety," McCrory said, in a statement. "We re-emphasize that role today with the results of this survey, which show that a record number of North Carolina motorists are now making the smart decision to buckle up."
The annual seat belt survey was conducted throughout the month of June at 120 sites in 15 counties across North Carolina. Trained spotters observed driver and front seat passengers of stopped or nearly stopped vehicles. Observation data was collected during rush hours (weekdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., or 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.), non-rush hours (weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.) and on weekends (Saturday or Sunday between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.).
The survey results were certified by the Research Triangle Institute which selects counties that offer a representative sample of North Carolina, based on a variety of criteria including county size and fatality rate. Rutherford County was not included in the recent survey sample.
According to the survey results, statewide driver seat belt usage increased 1.3 percent to 90.9 percent and passenger usage increased 4.8 percent to 89.7 percent.
The increase in seat belt usage, particularly among passengers, is due in large part to the joint efforts of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), the Governor's Highway Safety Program (GHSP) and law enforcement agencies across the state, who partnered throughout the month of May to increase "Click It or Ticket" education and enforcement efforts. The "Click It or Ticket" campaign has consistently increased seat belt usage rates and reduced fatalities across North Carolina, according to the GHSP.
"Last year's seat belt survey showed us that passengers were buckling up less often than drivers," said GHSP Director Don Nail, in a release. "With our partners in law enforcement and at NCDOT, we focused our public awareness campaign and enforcement efforts to ensure more passengers knew of and complied with the law requiring them to wear their seat belts just like drivers do."
This year, law enforcement officers statewide issued 14,600 seat belt and child passenger safety citations during the "Click It or Ticket" spring campaign that ran May 19-June 1.
In Rutherford County, officers issued 113 total occupant restraint charges, an increase from 88 in 2013 during the same campaign.
The "Click It or Ticket" campaign aims to increase seat belt and child restraint use through tougher enforcement of the state's seat belt law. North Carolina has had a primary seat belt law since 1985. According to G.S. 20-135.2A, all drivers and passengers in the front and rear seats ages 16 and older must wear their seat belts. Children younger than 16 are covered by the N.C. Child Passenger Safety law.
G.S. 20-135.2A reads that, "The full restraint system provided for the seating position must be properly worn," including both the lap and shoulder belt. The law further states that, "Placing the shoulder belt behind the back or under the arm is not allowed."
In North Carolina, the penalty for unbelted drivers and front seat occupants ages 16 or older is $25.50, with court costs as high as $135.50.
Other trends highlighted on the latest seat belt survey are female drivers buckling up more often than males (93.1 percent versus 89.2 percent) and young drivers ages 16-24 buckling up 89.1 percent of the time, compared to 85.5 percent last year.
However, the same survey indicates that drivers ages 16-24 are buckling up less than those ages 25-64 (90.6 percent) and ages 65 and older (95.2 percent).
The NCDOT also launched a new public service announcement in conjunction with "Click It or Ticket" called "Every Seat. Every Time" that reminded motorists the law requires them to buckle up no matter where they sit in a vehicle.
Seat belt use reduces the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and by 60 percent in trucks, SUVs and minivans, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
"I'm proud of the ongoing teamwork that has resulted in our state's highest seat belt usage rate ever," Tata said, in a statement. "More importantly, I am proud of what these numbers mean — that our citizens are making good decisions that result in more lives saved on our highways. We will continue to work with the public and law enforcement in our goal to reach 100 percent compliance with the law and zero highway deaths."
For more information on the latest survey or "Click It or Ticket" campaign, visit www.ncdot.gov/programs/GHSP/.
North Carolina Seat Belt Use
Source: NCDOT Governor's Highway Safety Program