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Study Underscores Need for Higher Seat Belt Use

May 20, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. --- A U.S. Department of Transportation study released May 14 estimates that 1,652 lives could be saved and 22,372 serious injuries avoided each year on America's roadways if seat belt use rates rose to 90 percent in every state. 

The new research report, based on 2007 data, also estimates that seat belts saved 15,147 lives that year. The study's findings were released as the department launched its "Click It or Ticket" nationwide enforcement campaign. 

"Wearing a seat belt costs nothing and yet it's the single most effective traffic safety device ever invented," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We want to let the American people know that by failing to wear your seat belt, you not only risk serious injury or death, you also risk getting a ticket." 

The "Click It or Ticket" campaign is set to run from May 18 to May 31. The mobilization, expected to involve more than 10,000 police agencies, is supported by $8 million in national advertising funded through Congress and coordinated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The ads, which will air in English and Spanish, generate awareness of the increased enforcement efforts and the increased chance of getting a ticket if you are not buckled up. Ads will be aired on television, radio and online. 

The estimated national seat belt use rate - which stood at 83 percent in 2008 -- is based on NHTSA's National Occupant Protection Use Survey. One of five Americans still fails to buckle up regularly. 

Speaking before students at a news conference at a suburban Virginia high school, LaHood underscored the reality that seat belt use rates are relatively low among teenagers. Of the 4,540 16- to 20-year-old passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2007, 2,502 were unbelted at the time of the crash. Teen belt use rates are especially low at night. In 2007, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of the 16-to-20 year olds killed in nighttime crashes were unbelted at the time. 

"Young people often think they're invincible. Yet like everyone in a passenger vehicle, they're tremendously vulnerable in the event of a crash," LaHood said.


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