WASHINGTON, D.C. — More Americans than ever are buckling up as a result of enhanced police enforcement and a growing awareness that seat belts can save lives, according to the Associated Press. The Department of Transportation said seat belt use rates reached 82 percent in 2005 nationally, an all-time high and an increase of two percentage points from the previous year. Seat belt use was at 71 percent in 2000. With a use rate of 82 percent, seat belts annually prevent 15,700 fatalities, 350,000 serious injuries, and $67 billion in economic costs linked to traffic injuries and deaths. The increase of two percentage points saved an estimated 540 lives and 8,000 serious injuries, according to the Associated Press article. Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have passed primary seat belt laws, which allow police to stop motorists who fail to wear their seat belts. Most other states have secondary seat belt laws, which allow police to issue a seat belt violation only if a driver is stopped for another infraction. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that states with primary belt laws averaged use rates of 85 percent, compared to 75 percent in states with secondary laws. The Bush administration has tried to entice more states to adopt primary belt laws, offering those without the statutes grant money for highway construction and safety enforcement programs. States can also become eligible if they achieve 85 percent belt use for two consecutive years. Among states without the primary laws, Florida could receive more than $35 million under the program, Pennsylvania would be eligible for more than $28 million, Missouri could receive more than $16 million, and Massachusetts could get more than $13 million, according to the Associated Press.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials