Improving La. seat belt usage starts with teens

March 17
March 17, 2009
Loyce "Lois" H. Matherne
March 19, 2009

According to 2007 statistics, the nationwide rate of seat belt usage in the United States is 82 percent. In Louisiana, it’s somewhat lower at about 75 percent. This rate of usage ranks Louisiana 42nd in the nation.

The bottom line: This is something upon which our state urgently needs to improve.

To improve seat belt usage is to save lives. Wearing a seat belt improves one’s chances of surviving a crash by 45 percent. Consider this: In 2007, more than 65 percent of people killed on Louisiana’s highways were not buckled up. How many of these lives could have been saved had these people been wearing their seat belts?

Here is another sad statistic: Nationwide, more than 2,500 people between ages 16 to 20 who were killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts – more than in almost any other age group.

In fact, more than 4,500 people in this age group were killed in crashes – a higher number than in all but one other age group. This is especially horrifying when considering that drivers in this age group make up less than 10 percent of all drivers.

With that in mind, it is evident that the time has come for a new tactic to improve seat belt usage. I am convinced that a good way to increase seat belt usage – not only in Louisiana, but across the nation – is to teach good habits at an early age. We need to start reinforcing the importance of wearing a seat belt with our youngest citizens before they get a driver’s license.

This spring, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission will be participating in a national pilot program that involves reaching out to young people regarding seat belt usage.

The purpose of the program, which involves holding events at schools and other places that are geared to youngsters, is to determine the best method or program for convincing our youth to wear their seat belts. Even as I write this column, the LHSC is working hard to develop messages that teenagers will take to heart.

We will also be emphasizing to both teens and older motorists the importance of buckling up when riding in the back seat.

Studies have shown that riding unbuckled in the rear seat is risky for both that individual and those in the front seat. A study by the American Medical Association estimated that one in six crash deaths of drivers or front-seat passengers could be prevented if passengers in the back seat were buckled up.

All highway deaths are tragic, but the loss of a young life seems so much sadder. Law enforcement officers across Louisiana say that one of the hardest things they have to do is inform parents that their child was killed in a crash.

At the LHSC, we’re working to save lives. Convincing our younger generations to respect our important traffic laws will help keep Louisiana roadways safe both now and in the future.