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Archive for Monday, November 17, 2003

Tightening of laws on seat belt usage urged by group

November 17, 2003

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— A private safety group estimates that more than 12,000 people died from 1995 through 2002 because their states lacked laws that allow police to ticket motorists solely for failing to buckle up.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have such primary seat belt laws. In 29 other states, including Kansas, police can issues tickets for failure to wear a seat belt only after they stop a motorist for another violation. New Hampshire has no seat belt law.

As a result of the National Safety Council study to be released today, federal officials are renewing a recommendation first made in 1995 that all states pass primary belt laws.

"It is tragic that 30 states have failed to act to implement this safety countermeasure that costs nothing but could save so many," said Ellen Engleman, head of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The study found that during the eight-year period, seat belt use increased by an average of 15 percentage points in states that had primary seat belt laws. States with primary belt laws had an average use rate of 78 percent, compared with 63 percent in states without such laws.

Researchers then estimated the number of deaths attributed to states' lack of primary seat belt laws.

Based on the calculations, researchers estimated that 12,178 people died from 1995 through 2002 because states failed to put in place primary seat belt laws; the estimates ranged from 33 in Rhode Island to 1,333 in Florida. Further, researchers predicted 1,400 additional deaths in 2004 should no new primary seat belt laws take effect.

"We have a vaccine for the leading cause of death for Americans ages 2 through 33 -- safety belts," said Dr. Jeffrey Runge, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and an emergency room physician.

Florida's Senate president, Jim King, say his state does not need the law because Florida also has a seat belt use rate of nearly 80 percent as it is.

The National Safety Council estimates that lack of primary seat belt laws in 30 states cost 12,178 lives from 1995 to 2002. In Kansas, it estimated the lack of such a law resulted in 247 lives lost.

"For me, this has been and will continue to be an opposition of Big Brother-hood," King said.

Jonathan Adkins, a spokesman for the Governors Highway Safety Assn., said, "If every state had a primary seat belt law, we would be in better shape than we are now, but we'd still have a long way to go."

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