Mo. lags in use of seat belts

Only about 76 percent of Missourians wear safety belts in cars, an annual survey says.
Monday, August 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:00 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

The statistics speak for themselves.

Vehicle occupants who buckle up are injured in just one of seven crashes and their chance of being killed is only one in 1,108. When motorists don’t wear seat belts, their risk of injury is one in three and the risk of being killed increases to one in 39.

For front-seat passengers, using seat belts reduces the risk of serious injury by 50 percent.

Through an annual survey of more than 100,000 vehicles statewide, the Missouri Department of Transportation found that about 76 percent of motorists use safety belts. The new data mark an increase in use of 3 percent from the previous year but remain under the national average of 79 percent.

Joyce Shaul, director of highway safety for the Transportation Department, said Missouri’s numbers continue to be too low.

“Missouri’s current safety-belt law contributes to low belt use,” she said.

Missouri has secondary seat-belt laws for adults, which means failing to use seat belts isn’t itself a violation unless another traffic offense is committed. A primary seat-belt law would let police stop motorists and issue tickets for failing to buckle up.

According to federal statistics, ninety-four lives would be saved and 1,000 serious injuries prevented if Missouri had a primary safety belt law because of a predicted 11 percent increase in seat belt use.

Sgt. Tim Moriarty of the Columbia Police Department’s Traffic Unit said one reason people don’t use seat belts is that it makes them feel confined or uncomfortable. Some people don’t buckle up when they drive short distances or simply forget, he said.

Other times, people fear that they’ll be trapped in their vehicles, which Moriarty said only occurs one-half of 1 percent of the time.

Wearing seat belts would not only save lives, Moriarty said. He estimates that economic loss of not wearing seat belts in Missouri totaled more than $3 million in 2002.

“We should have the primary seat-belt law, not because we want to write a bunch of tickets but because we see the effects of people having accidents and not wearing the seat belt,” Moriarty said. “We would prefer that they do it voluntarily and make it a habit.”

A survey in Boone County last year indicated that 79.9 percent of vehicle occupants were using seat belts, compared to 80.8 percent in Callaway County and 72.2 percent in Camden County.

Sen. Jon Dolan, R-Lake St. Louis, chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, proposed legislation for a primary seat-belt law, but the bill failed to pass in the Missouri House of Representatives earlier this year.

Vicky Williams, senior operations specialist for the Transportation Department, said opponents of the legislation based their position on a desire for personal freedom.

“They argued that a primary law doesn’t allow people the opportunity to make the decision of whether to wear it or not,” she said.

Jackie Allen, an operations specialist for the Missouri Transporation Department, said the agency does many things throughout the year to promote the use of safety restraints by working with communities and law enforcement agencies. She said the aim is to increase awareness through media and advertisement campaigns such as “Click It or Ticket.” The last campaign was in May 2004.

“People in general don’t realize the importance of safety belts and how they function in a crash,” Allen said.

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