Douglas County drivers were less likely to buckle up in 2003 than in previous years, according to statistics released by the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Seat-belt use in Douglas County dropped to 58 percent among drivers age 14 and up, compared with 65 percent in 2002 and 68 percent in 2000.
Statewide, 64 percent of drivers used seat belts compared with 79 percent of drivers nationally.
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger said the numbers were a call for action.
"We can do better," she said.
The report looked at 51,000 drivers across 20 counties during summer 2003.
A former state senator from Lawrence, Praeger supported laws that would have allowed police to cite drivers solely for seat-belt violations.
"Laws have a way of elevating the importance of something if people don't want to do it on their own," she said.
The current Kansas Safety Belt Use Act fines drivers who don't wear seat belts $10, but only if in combination with a separate moving violation.
|According to statistics released by the Kansas Department of Transportation:¢ Johnson County drivers were the safest in Kansas in 2003 with an 80 percent seat-belt use rate.¢ Neosho County ranked last overall with only 35 percent of its drivers wearing their seat belts in 2003.¢ Only 19 percent of passengers in Atchison County ages 10 to 14 wore seat belts in 2003.¢ Kansas drivers were 25 percent more likely to wear seat belts on rural interstate highways (79 percent) than on county roads (53 percent).|
Praeger advocates more programs aimed at educating people on the dangers of driving without seat belts.
Dawn Downing, 34, who recently moved to Lawrence from Phoenix, agrees state lawmakers should increase penalties for drivers who don't buckle up.
Two years ago, Downing, born and raised in Lawrence, was involved in an accident in Phoenix where the two passengers in the other vehicle were not wearing seat belts; they died. Downing was wearing her seat belt.
"I buckle up all the time," Downing said. "It's a simple thing to do -- because it saves lives."
Despite an apparent trend away from seat-belt use in Douglas County, KDOT surveyors found an upside here; Douglas County ranked No. 1 in Kansas for seat-belt use for children 4 and under, at 90 percent.
Nelda Mayse, a third-grade teacher at Pinckney School, said although the number for that age group was the highest in the state, it was "still not good enough," and the fines for noncompliance were inadequate.