Archive for Tuesday, January 6, 2004

Accidents may inflate seat-belt use rates

January 6, 2004

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— Many more Kansans say they were wearing a seat belt after an accident than when questioned generally about buckling up, according to state transportation officials.

Seat-belt usage by motorists involved in accidents rose to 83 percent in 2002, up from 62 percent in 1990, according to Kansas Department of Transportation records. But a survey of all motorists last summer found that only 64 percent of Kansans are buckling up.

The difference, one official said, could be as simple as avoiding a fine.

"When asked if they were wearing a seat belt, people generally say 'yes' whether they were or not because they don't want to get a $10 fine tacked on," said Jeff Halloran, project director for the Kansas Safety Belt Education office in Lawrence. "People aren't always 100 percent honest."

Kansas has a secondary seat-belt law, meaning police can only issue $10 tickets when motorists are stopped for other infractions.

Officials said the numbers also could be inflated because most accidents occurred in urban areas, where seat-belt usage was traditionally higher.

Still, KDOT officials said, three-fourths of the 511 people who died on Kansas roads last year were not wearing seat belts.

Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported seat-belt usage increased in 40 states and the District of Columbia during 2002.

The Kansas rate increased to 64 percent from 61 percent, ahead of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Arkansas. The national usage rate was 79 percent, the highest ever.

Kansas Highway Patrol Lt. John Eichkorn said traffic safety officials hoped the same social pressure that has helped reduce drunken driving would prompt increased seat-belt usage.

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