44 U.S. Senators urge passage of life-saving motor vehicle safety provisions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Debra Kubecka
September 17, 2004 202-408-1711 or 443-226-4744

STATEMENT OF
JUDITH LEE STONE, PRESIDENT
ADVOCATES FOR HIGHWAY AND AUTO SAFETY

CONGRESS COULD INCREASE SEAT BELT USE MORE RAPIDLY BY PASSING A NATIONAL SEAT BELT LAW

Washington, D.C. While we welcome today's news about an increase to 80% in national seat belt use, much more needs to be and can be done to push seat belt use over the 90 percentile mark. The sad fact is that 29 states still do not allow primary enforcement of their seat belt laws, and states that do have the stronger law demonstrate higher average belt use. Widespread law enforcement efforts in the states to date have resulted in only incremental increases, which by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) own definition are statistically insignificant.

We have known for 20 years that secondary enforcement provisions in belt use laws make it difficult for a state to enforce the law to its fullest extent, but many state legislatures are reluctant to change their belt laws to primary enforcement. NHTSA's 2004 survey shows a huge gap in seat belt use from a low of 74 percent in states without primary, to an overall average of 84 percent in states with primary.

It is clear from numerous studies that the only way to effectively and more rapidly increase seat belt use in any state is to implement a primary enforcement seat belt law. Congress has an excellent opportunity to achieve this through the Warner-Clinton National Seatbelt legislation, which would encourage states to implement primary laws within three years, with incentives first, then under threat of sanctions if necessary. This same strategy was used effectively with the .08% Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) law that all 50 states now have as of this year. Given the improved outcome in saving lives and in saving economic costs associated with death and injury from lack of seat belt use, the Warner-Clinton legislation should be given top priority by the Administration.

While 80 percent seat belt use may seem high, still over half of those killed in motor vehicle crashes were not using seat belts. The 2003 Fatality Analysis Reporting Survey showed that 56 percent of people who died in motor vehicles were not wearing seatbelts and, worse, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of 16 to 20 year olds killed were unbelted.

It is important to point out that while seat belt use is critical to improving safety, many seat belts currently installed in motor vehicles do not fully protect occupants in rollover crashes that cause roofs to crush in. Again, Congress has an opportunity to act-safety provisions currently being considered in a conference committee for the reauthorization of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA) would improve roof crush standards and seat belt performance for these and all other types of crashes.

As the 108th Congress comes to a close, time is running out to save countless more lives by adopting the long overdue safety provisions in Title IV of SAFETEA, as well as a national primary enforcement seat belt law. Support for these lifesaving measures in Congress from the Bush Administration would help move this lifesaving agenda forward and spare thousands of families unnecessary grief due to lost lives and debilitating injuries.

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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer, is actively involved at the federal and state levels to reduce the terrible tragedy of crashes to families across the nation.

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