When it comes to making sure children are safely buckled up on the road, Douglas County is number one in the state, according to a report this summer from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
A portion of the study, which measures seat belt use across Kansas each year, shows that about 95 percent of Douglas County children aged 0-17 were buckled up between 2012 and this year. That was the highest figure of any Kansas county, including Johnson County, which came in second at just under 92 percent.
The survey, commissioned by KDOT and carried out by DCCCA, a Lawrence-based drug and alcohol treatment provider, conducts separate studies for children and adults. The data is collected directly by observers watching traffic and counting seat belts at 398 locations around the state, said Dan Schulte, the lead researcher.
The observers counted more than 34,000 children, and one of the most important findings was that children were more likely to be buckled up if the driver was also using a seat belt, Schulte said. In the surveys, 95 percent of children were buckled up when the driver was also belted. But only about 30 percent of children were using seat belts when the driver was not.
"When the adults buckle up, so do the kids, Schulte said. "When it's not important to the driver, it's not to the kids either."
It can make a big difference in safety, Schulte said: A person is seven times more likely to walk away from an accident without injury if they are wearing a seat belt.
So far, only the results for the child portion of the survey have been released, and Schulte is working on the rest of the data.
In general, counties with more urban communities tended to score higher results than rural counties, according to the report. But virtually the entire state has shown an increase in seat belt use among children over the past four years.
Neosho County, about 100 miles south of Lawrence, came in last in this year's report with 58 percent of children buckled up, which was up from about 46 percent four years ago. Seat belt use in Douglas County has increased each year, and led the state last year, too, at just less than 90 percent.
Ten years ago, only 63 percent of Kansans used seat belts, a lower rate than most states. Since then, the state has passed more laws requiring seat belt use among both drivers and passengers and the overall rate has increased to nearly 85 percent.
The biggest increase in seat belt use has been seen among juveniles aged 15 to 17, Schulte said. He attributed the trend to a 2010 state law allowing police to stop vehicles for the sole reason of failure to wear a seat belt, ending a nearly decade-long battle over the issue.