Columbia, SC - As the South Carolina Senate debates a bill to upgrade the state's current mandatory seat belt law from secondary enforcement to primary or "standard" enforcement, a new study by the National Safety Council documents high fatalities among South Carolina young people because of low seat belt use rates.
Primary seat belt laws bring enforcement of a seat belt violation in line with other motor vehicle laws, such as a broken tail light. Primary laws cover 60 percent of the U.S. population and are in place in 20 states.
Commissioned by the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign of NSC and conducted by Preusser Research Group, In. of Trumbull, Ct., the study, "White Paper on Young People Belt Use" (full report available at Teen seat belt use found that seat belts were used by only 26% of the 956 South Carolina young people age 16 to 24 killed in crashes from 1998 to 2002.
"The simple and tragic truth revealed by this study is that more than 320 South Carolina young people, who might have survived serious crashes, died because they didn't take the state's current seat belt law seriously and didn't buckle up," said Janet Dewey-Kollen of NSC.
For the years 1998-2002, only 27% of young drivers and 23% of young passengers killed in crashes in South Carolina were buckled up according the U.S. Government's Fatal Accident Reporting System.
Experience in other states shows that primary seat belt use laws have been instrumental in getting higher risk drivers, like teens and young adults, to buckle up. "There is no question that increased seat belt use will save the lives of young people in South Carolina," Ms. Dewey-Kollen said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, safety belts can reduce the risk of death for front seat occupants of passenger cars by 45% and decrease the risk of serious injury for front seat occupants of passenger cars by 50%.
A comparison of similar data for other states where primary seat belt use laws are in effect can help put the devastating impact of low seat belt use by South Carolina young people into perspective. Even though South Carolina has half the population of Georgia, a state that strengthened its law in 1996, South Carolina experienced 74% as many deaths to young drivers and passengers as Georgia for the years 1998-2002.
Further, during the same time period, as many young drivers died in South Carolina as in the state of New York, a state with four times the population of South Carolina. New York's seat belt law is enforced on a primary basis just like other traffic violations.
"Seat belt use is lower and fatality rates are higher overall for young people, when compared to older drivers and passengers," Dewey-Kollen said. "However, this study clearly shows that when a state's seat belt law is enforced on a primary basis just like any other traffic law, more young people buckle up," she said.
The Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, a program of NSC, is a public/private partnership of automotive manufacturers, insurance companies, child safety seat manufacturers, government agencies, health professionals and child health and safety organizations. The goal of the Campaign is to increase the proper use of safety belts and child safety seats and to inform the public about how to maximize the lifesaving capabilities of air bags while minimizing the risks.
The National Safety Council (nsc.org) saves lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the roads through leadership, research, education and advocacy.