Survey finds seat belt usage declining as fatalities rise

automobileJACKSON — New data from the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety shows the observed belt usage rate is at 74.4 percent. That’s compared to 83 percent in 2012, officials said yesterday in a news release.

Fatalities also increased last year. In 2013, 613 people died from traffic accidents in Mississippi, a 5.3 percent increase from 2012.

Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz said of the 582 fatalities handled by the Highway Patrol, 302 of them involved either unrestrained drivers or unrestrained passengers.

“The statistics are clear, year after year, that seat belts save lives. Last year in Mississippi there were 582 traffic fatalities,” he said.

The numbers come as the Click It or Ticket campaign ramps up all across the country. Through June 1, state and local law enforcement officials are stepping up enforcement to catch motorists who aren’t wearing seat belts.

“All law enforcement officials are at a heightened level to enforce seat belt laws now through the Memorial Day holiday which is one of the peak travel times of the year. I’m asking all Mississippians to please buckle up,” Santa Cruz said.

The study was conducted by the Mississippi Public Safety Data Laboratory at Mississippi State University. Every state is required to conduct its own survey based on criteria set by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

David Parrish, a senior research associate at the laboratory, and his staff did observational surveys in 16 counties in Mississippi. The 2013 survey looked at rural roads to match new criteria laid out by the government.

Parrish said the rural roads played a part in the state’s decline in seat belt usage rate. All the states used the new criteria, but not everyone saw a decline like Mississippi, he said.

Alabama’s seat belt usage rate increased by 7.8 percent to 97.3 percent, according to NHTSA. Arkansas saw a 4.8 percent increase to 76.7 percent, and Georgia saw a 3.5 percent increase to 95.5 percent.

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