Archive for Monday, July 1, 1996

SEAT BELT USE CLIMBS WITH LAW

July 1, 1996

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Only one in 10 people wore seat belts when a law requiring them in Kansas was passed. Today, more than five of 10 use them.

More than five times as many people are wearing seat belts in Kansas today than 10 years ago, when a mandatory seat belt law was enacted.

The state will mark today's 10-year anniversary of the Kansas Safety Belt Use Act with that figure.

Before the legislation was passed in 1986, only about 10 percent of Kansas adults were buckling up, according to the Kansas Safety Belt Education Office, a division of the state's Department of Transportation.

This year, a KDOT survey showed that 54 percent of drivers and passengers were putting on seat belts.

"Any time you have a law, it does affect usage rates," said April Marvin, traffic safety specialist for the office.

KDOT estimates that 477 lives have been saved by seat belts since the law was enacted.

But 442 people died in Kansas car accidents in 1995. Many of those deaths could have been prevented if people had been wearing seat belts.

Despite the relatively large increase in the number of Kansas drivers and passengers buckling up in the last 10 years, the state still ranks low in seat belt use, Marvin said.

New Mexico ranks first for seat belt use, she said, with 84 percent of people buckling up.

South Dakota ranks last. Only 40 percent of drivers and passengers use seat belts there, she said.

Marvin said part of the reason more people aren't using seat belts in states like South Dakota or Kansas is that they have a "secondary" seat belt law, while states like New Mexico have a "primary" law.

"A primary law means that you can be pulled over if you are seen not wearing a seat belt," she said. "A secondary law means that there has to be some other violation -- like a broken headlight -- and you have to be written a ticket for that violation before you can be given a ticket for not wearing a seat belt."

However, Kansas has a primary law concerning child safety seats.

This year, the state had a 68 percent child safety seat use rate for children under age 4, up from 61 percent in 1995.

Marvin said there is little, if any, push to make the regular seat belt law primary in the Sunflower State.

In fact, she said, the political winds are blowing in favor of less government regulation on the highways. Federal restrictions recently have been loosened on speed limits and on motorcycle helmets.

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