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Missouri Department of Transportation

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MoDOT News Release 

For more information, contact Dale Findlay, Missouri Safety Council, (573) 636-8167.

November 15, 2006 12:00 AM
Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety Press Release
Changing Safety Belt Law Is Groupís Priority

JEFFERSON CITY - A two percent drop in Missouri's safety belt use rate proves the need to strengthen the state's safety belt law and has prompted a group of safety advocates to make primary safety belt legislation their top priority for the upcoming legislative session.

A recent survey by the Missouri Department of Transportation showed a 75.2 percent safety belt use rate last year as compared to 77.4 percent in 2005.  The national average for safety belt use is 82 percent.

"Unfortunately we're not gaining in safety belt use or even sustaining current use," MoDOT Director Pete Rahn said.  "We've worked hard to inform the public about the importance of safety belt use, but it's apparent that awareness campaigns and secondary enforcement can only get us so far. We have to strengthen our law by allowing primary enforcement if we want to increase safety belt use and save lives."

Missouri's safety belt law allows only secondary enforcement, meaning motorists can be stopped only if the driver is first pulled over for another offense. 

"Of the more than 500 Missouri traffic offenses, this is the only one restricted to secondary enforcement," Rahn said.  "That's just plain wrong, and we need to do something to fix it.  Changing our safety belt law to allow primary enforcement is the right thing to do, and 2007 is the year to do it."

Federal statistics show that a primary law in Missouri could save 90 lives and prevent more than 1,000 serious injuries each year.  It also could save Missourians about $231 million a year in costs associated with traffic crashes.

"Statistics show that states with secondary enforcement of their safety belt laws often see a leveling off in safety belt use," said Rahn.  "That's because the law essentially ties the hands of law enforcement. It's hard to raise safety belt use if you can't reach people with a strong enforcement message."

About 200 safety advocates from throughout the state met yesterday in Columbia to examine ways to get Missouri's safety belt law changed to allow primary enforcement.  The Primary Safety Belt Partners, a task force formed under the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, sponsored the summit.  The task force's steering committee includes AAA, DaimlerChrysler, Federal Highway Administration, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, State Farm Insurance, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri Hospital Association, the Missouri Insurance Coalition, the Missouri Safety Center, the Missouri Safety Council, the Missouri State Medical Association and the National Safety Council.

Nicole Nason, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, sent a videotaped message commending Missouri on taking steps to enact a primary safety belt law.

"Our research and experience shows that primary safety belt laws are the quickest and least expensive way to increase seat belt use and decrease highway fatalities," Nason said.

Also on the agenda were speakers from three states that already have primary safety belt laws:  Washington, Mississippi and South Carolina.  Terecia Wilson, director of safety for the South Carolina Department of Transportation, reported South Carolina had 98 fewer occupant fatalities in the period following the passage of primary safety belt legislation in 2005 as compared to the same period before - a 15 percent reduction.

"You will make a difference in the lives of thousands of Missouri citizens if your effort is successful," Wilson told the group.

For more information about Missouri's safety belt law and safety belt use in Missouri, visit http://www.savemolives.com/.

Editor's Note:  For recorded comments on this subject from MoDOT Director Pete Rahn visit www.modot.org/newsroom.

Additional safety belt statistics:

· In the past three years, 68 percent of the people who died in Missouri traffic crashes were not properly restrained by a safety belt or child safety seat.

· Motorists wearing a safety belt are injured in only one of seven crashes.  When not wearing a belt the chances increase to one in three.

· A driver involved in a traffic crash had a one in 39 chance of being killed if not wearing a safety belt.   In those cases where drivers wore safety belts, their chance of being killed was only one in 1,108.

Safety belts reduce the risk of serious injury for front seat occupants of passenger cars by 50 percent and light trucks by 65 percent.
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