Safety belt use continues to be fairly low in Kansas, despite a state law.
For the past nine years, state law has required that all front-seat passengers wear safety belts.
But a recent survey shows that only a little more than half of the state's adult drivers are buckling up.
"That tells me we have a long way to go in increasing the safety belt usage statewide," said Rosalie Thornburgh, chief of the bureau of traffic safety at the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Thornburgh said her office's annual observation survey of 500 sites picked around Kansas showed that about 54 percent of adult drivers used safety belts compared with 64 percent nationally.
"We also found out that 62 percent of children under the age of 4 were in child-restraint systems," she said. "Children ages 4 through 13 had a 47 percent safety belt usage rate."
Thornburgh said KDOT's survey had shown that drivers who lived in cities buckled up more than drivers who lived in rural areas.
"So our challenge in increasing statewide usage is to try to equal the national usage rate and promote usage in rural parts of the state," she said.
Safety belt usage information from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment shows that men are less likely to wear a safety belt (47 percent) than women (58 percent). Safety belt use is lowest among males 18 to 24 years old (37 percent).
Brian Lawrence, operations director at Douglas County Ambulance Service, estimated that drivers and passengers were wearing safety belts in about 50 percent of local traffic accidents.
"Obviously their injuries are more severe if they don't have a seat belt on," Lawrence said.
Lawrence said studies show that the most severe injuries are caused when drivers and passengers are ejected from their vehicles.
"If you wore the seat belt it would keep you inside the vehicle, and you would have a better chance of sustaining less injuries and less chance of dying," Lawrence said.
Only about 10 percent of Kansas drivers and passengers were using safety belts in 1986, when the state passed its seat belt law, which requires anyone riding in the front seat of a car, van or certain trucks to correctly wear a safety belt.
From the time the law went into effect July 1, 1986, through Dec. 31, 1993, about 570 people involved in possible fatal crashes have been saved by using safety belts, Thornburgh said.
State law requires children under 4 years old to ride in federally approved safety seats, and children ages 4 through 13 are required to be restrained by a safety belt.
The safety belt law is a secondary enforcement law, which means that a citation can be given only after an officer stops a vehicle for some other infraction. The child passenger law is a primary enforcement law, which allows officers to issue a citation whenever they observe a violation.
The fine is $10 for a safety belt violation and $20 for a child safety restraint violation.
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