Missouri still below national average in seat belt usage
JEFFERSON CITY - Seat belt usage is up in Missouri, with 84 percent of Missourians choosing to buckle up. That is a 2.6 percent increase from 2016. However, the state is still well below the national average of 90 percent.
The Missouri Seat Belt Usage Survey had observers record data from within 28 Missouri counties on over 115,000 vehicle occupants.
Michael Stapp, MoDOT Systems Management Specialist, said there is still work to be done.
"We're elated that we are up to 84 percent," Stapp said. "That's still not good enough, though. It needs to be higher."
MoDOT started conducting the Missouri Seat Belt Usage Survey in 1998. The seat belt usage was 60 percent at the time. Stapp said the increase from 2016 to 2017 is the first large increase MoDOT has seen in a decade.
"An increase from 60 to 84 is great," Stapp said. "From 1998 when we were at 60, now in 2017 we are up to 84. We are getting closer to the goal. We are also really impressed with this year's increase. This is the biggest increase we've seen in a while. Probably 10 years."
According a press release by MoDOT, female drivers are more likely to buckle up than male drivers. In addition, minivan and utility sport and crossover vehicle drivers were more likely to be belted.
"When you think of a minivan, that's usually the soccer mom with three or four kids," Stapp said. "I think that lends itself to why the seat belt rate is higher for those vehicles."
Stapp said the passengers are more likely to buckle up if the driver is buckled.
Pickup truck drivers and passengers were least likely to buckle up. Just 69 percent of pickup drivers were buckled during the survey. Missouri is one of 15 states that do not have a primary seat belt law, which Stapp said contributes to the low percentages.
"On pickup trucks, depending on the size of the truck and what it's licensed at, you don't have to have a seatbelt," Stapp said. That was originally established for farm communities and farmers in general who are in and out of the field. They don't want to be getting in and out with the seatbelts."
Stapp said the law for farm pickup trucks should be updated.
"In Missouri, we have a large number of pickup trucks and it's not just farmers driving pickups anymore," Stapp said. "It's an everyday family vehicle. We should have a primary law. We could save 40 lives a year with that."
Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officers to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic violations taking place. Secondary seat belt laws state that law enforcement officers may issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt only when there is another traffic infraction.
According to Stapp, the rate of fatal car crashes in Missouri is down this year, but MoDOT wants to continue to alert drivers to the dangers of unbuckled driving.
"Over 65 percent of fatal crashes in Missouri happen when the person is unbuckled," Stapp said. "While our rate is lower this year, we were up the past two years. We are behind where we want to be, but it appears as though people are slowly getting the message."
Stapp said MoDOT wants to emphasize that people should buckle their seatbelt every time they get in the car.
"Every trip, every person, every time," Stapp said. "If you can save at least one life, it's worth it."