National Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Law

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December 9, 2003

Senators Warner and Clinton Introduce Legislation to Enact
National Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Law

Coalitions of Highway Safety and Medical Groups Lend Support

Washington, D.C. (December 9, 2003) - U.S. Senators John W. Warner (R-VA) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) today introduced legislation (S.1993) that would accelerate adoption of primary enforcement seat belt laws in states across the country.

"It is time for a national seat belt law," said Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates). "The states are just not moving fast enough to pass this lifesaving law which we know is fundamental to increasing belt use in this country. We applaud Senator Warner and Senator Clinton for their leadership on this issue." The U.S. seat belt use rate is 79 percent, well below that of other industrialized nations.

Currently, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have a primary enforcement seat belt law. Twenty-nine (29) states have secondary laws regarding seat belt use and New Hampshire has no seat belt law. Primary enforcement seat belt laws enable police officers to stop and ticket a motorist for not wearing a seat belt without having committed any other traffic violation. There is no other major highway safety law - other than seat belt use - that is hampered by a secondary enforcement provision.

Numerous highway safety, automotive, insurance and medical organizations have formed an Interstate Seat Belt Coalition in support of a national law to promote a primary enforcement seat belt law in every state. This coalition is co-chaired by Advocates and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS). "When people don't buckle up, all of society pays," said co-chair Phil Haseltine, president of ACTS. "An estimated $26 billion is spent annually on medical and emergency response care, lost productivity and other injury related costs."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that more than half of motor vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2002 were unbelted. Also, the agency has found that average seat belt use rates in states with a primary law is 10-15 percentage points higher than in states without such a provision. If all passengers were to use seat belts, an estimated additional 9,200 fatalities and 143,000 serious injuries could be prevented each year.

"Data from a 1999 Meharry Medical College report identified the lower incidence of seat belt use among African Americans as a national public health crisis - an assessment that remains true today," asserted John E. Maupin, D.D.S., president of the Nashville-based academic health science center. "The most recent data from NHTSA disclose that 47 percent of the more than 16,000 African Americans killed in the U.S. in motor vehicle crashes between 1996 and 2002 were not wearing seat belts. At least 3,400 of those lives could have been saved if all those African Americans had used seat belts."

Stephen W. Hargarten, M.D., an emergency room doctor from Wisconsin and a member of the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) said, "The loss of life and horrific injuries I witness regularly in the emergency room as a result of motor vehicle crashes can be prevented and mitigated by buckling up. Primary enforcement seat belt laws are effective in getting people to wear belts and are critical components to reducing the thousands of needless deaths that occur on our nation's roads each year."

S.1993 gives states 3 years to enact a primary seat belt law or achieve a seat belt usage rate of at least 90 percent. States that do not meet either goal will have a small percentage of their Highway Trust Fund monies withheld. This approach is similar to federal legislation Congress has passed in previous years resulting in states passing laws establishing a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level and a 21-year-old minimum drinking age.

Advocates established The SAFETEA Coalition that includes 110 concerned organizations involved on the federal, state and local level working together to promote legislation to reduce the nearly 43,000 fatalities and 3 million injuries that occur annually as a result of motor vehicle crashes. A top priority on the SAFETEA Coalition's agenda is passage of a national primary enforcement seat belt law.

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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer. Founded in 1989, Advocates encourages the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that save lives and reduce injuries.

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