To paraphrase a familiar saying, buckling up for safety isn't just a good idea – it's the law. Indeed, most of the U.S. has legislation in place requiring motorists to strap themselves in. Those who don't can be pulled over for no other reason than failure to comply.
But according to a recent report, the vast majority of motorists are obeying this common sense law, sparing themselves from serious injury or worse after an accident.
In 2016, over 90% of drivers buckled up on a consistent basis, according to new analysis conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's up from a compliance rate of 88.5% the previous year and the highest level since 1994, when NHTSA first kept track of this data type.
Mark Rosekind, NHTSA Administrator, acknowledged that advanced safety features have come a long way in the past 25 years or so, but perhaps nothing is more imperative to passengers' protection than the simple seat belt.
"We are encouraged by this progress, but with so many people still dying in crashes because they are not wearing their seat belts, we will not rest until we reach 100 percent," Rosekind explained.
Deadly accidents jumped in 2015
Highway fatalities are much less common than they used to be, thanks to a combination of traffic safety campaigns, stricter enforcement, and improved automotive quality. Still, they've risen as of late, totaling 35,092 in 2015, NHTSA reported this past August. Up 7% from 2014, it was the first time in 50 years deadly car accidents increased on a year-over-year basis. Safety experts believe distracted driving may be to blame, as 90% of all accidents on the roads are behavior-related.
It's safe to say, though, that even more motorists would have been killed were it not for their being strapped in at the time. NHTSA says approximately 19,941 Americans' lives were saved in 2015 thanks to seat belt use.
Police departments and traffic safety organizations put together seat belt awareness campaigns just about every year. At these times, cruisers will often appear in larger quantities on area roads, with officers intently looking to see if drivers are buckled. In states that have primary laws, drivers can be penalized for not wearing their seat belts. In addition to the District of Columbia, 34 states have primary seat belt laws for individuals riding in the front, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Of these, 18 also have primary laws governing back seat occupants.
Not buckling often a pricey decision
Just as the seat belt legislation varies from state to state, so too do fines. For instance, in Indiana, individuals who don't buckle up are slapped with a $25 ticket the first time they violate the law. However, in Maryland, the maximum fine is more than three times that amount, totaling as much as $83 when including court considerations. One of the costliest places for seat belt violators is California, where offenders may be fined as much as $162.
While the NHTSA is hopeful the seat belt compliance rate will eventually reach 100%, this achievement is impossible without motorists' cooperation. Frequently, strict enforcement serves as a financial incentive, but like distracted driving, it can be difficult for officers to legislate the illegal activity on busy roads.
The deployment of technology may be the answer. For instance, in Spain, safety officials have started utilizing camera and radar detection that zero in on whether motorists are strapped in, according to local online publication On The Pulse of Spain. The General Director of Traffic says that, barring any deployment issues, 200 of these systems are expected to be used all across the country.
Whether you've got a long road ahead of you or are making a quick trip, make sure to take time every time to buckle your seat belt. To do otherwise is a major mistake.