Seat belt use in the United States has hit a historic high, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday.
Daytime use of seat belts among drivers and right-front passengers between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. was 90 percent — the highest since the federal government began conducting regular surveys in 1994, NHTSA said in a news release.
The findings were part of a sweeping observational study conducted by NHTSA in June. The study — the National Occupant Protection Use Survey — is the only one of its kind to provide seat belt-use data on a national scale. It includes information on child restraints and motorcycle helmets, along with how many drivers were observed using electronic devices.
Despite more people using seat belts, NHTSA said, about half of people killed in traffic crashes last year were not wearing seat belts. That’s a number consistent with South Florida, where this year, about half of the people who have died in crashes were not wearing seat belts, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman told The Palm Beach Post earlier this year.
A study recently released by the Florida Department of Transportation found similar results to the national survey, with 89.6 percent of drivers buckling up. And throughout Florida in 2015, there were 1,532 fatalities, with 662 of those people not wearing seat belts, according to a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles database.
“The best way folks can protect themselves in their cars is by wearing a seat belt,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the news release. “Whether you’re a driver or passenger, in the front seat or back, the simple act of wearing a seat belt significantly reduces the risk of fatality and major injury in a crash.”
In Florida, not wearing your seat belt is a primary offense, meaning you can be pulled over if an officer spots you when you aren’t buckled in. That citation could cost you $30, and more if you’re cited for another offense at the same time.
Federal officials credit nationwide safety efforts along with tougher state laws for the increase in seat belt use.
More notable findings from NHTSA’s study:
• People in the western U.S. are more likely to use their seat belts than those in other areas of the country.
• Seat belt use continues to be higher in states where not wearing your seat belt is a primary offense.
• People in rural areas are wearing their safety restraints more often, with use rising from 86.8 percent last year to 89.5 percent this year.