South Carolina drivers and vehicle passengers are buckling-up more often and that’s due primarily to education and enforcement, according to a spokesman from the state Highway Patrol.
A National Occupant Protection Use Survey, provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the seat-belt usage rate across the state rose from 86 percent in 2011 to 90.5 percent in 2012.
Cpl. Bill Rhyne of the Highway Patrol credits the enforcement end of that increased rate to law enforcement networks throughout the state working together in partnership to ensure people are buckling up.
The survey said 16 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had seat-belt usage rates of 90 percent or higher. The national average for 2012 was 86 percent, up from 84 percent in 2011.
North Carolina saw its rate fall to its lowest level since 2005 — from 87.5 percent in 2012, down from 89.5 percent
“Wearing a seat belt or vehicle restraint is the safest single thing anyone in a vehicle can do,” said David E. Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.
Seat-belt usage reduces the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and by 60 percent in trucks, SUVs and minivans, NHTSA said.
“Ask any crash survivor and they will tell you that wearing their safety belt was the most important decision they made that day; it’s your first line of defense in a traffic crash,” said South Carolina Highway Patrol Commander Col. Michael Oliver, head of a statewide seat belt campaign to reduce unbelted traffic fatalities.
Traffic fatalities involving unrestrained passengers in South Carolina dropped from 64 percent last year to 58.6 percent through the first half of this year, according to state crash data.
South Carolina’s seat-belt usage rate of 90.5 percent is up from 69.7 percent in 2005 — the year the state’s safety belt law changed from secondary to primary enforcement.
That means a law enforcement officer has the authority to stop a driver if the officer has a clear and unobstructed view of a driver or occupant of a motor vehicle not wearing a safety belt, according to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety.