TRENTON – New Jersey’s front seat belt usage rate increased for the 13th consecutive year in 2009 to a record 92.67 percent, Division of Highway Traffic Safety Director Pam Fischer announced last week.
An observational survey conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology immediately following the state’s recent “Click It or Ticket” seat belt mobilization determined the new rate—an increase of nearly one percent over last year’s usage rate of 91.75 percent.
According to Fischer, the increase means that more than 79,000 New Jerseyans buckled up in 2009, compared to last year. In addition, using guidelines set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a .92 percent increase in front seat belt use will prevent seven fatalities, 206 serious injuries and 154 minor injuries, and will save nearly $50 million dollars in crash-related economic costs annually in New Jersey.
“We’re pleased to again see an increase in the front seat belt usage rate in New Jersey,” Fischer said. “By simply buckling up, lives are saved. While our traffic safety gains have continued to grow each year, we won’t rest until we achieve a 100 percent seat belt compliance rate. By continuing to focus on enforcement, public education and community outreach, we’re confident we’ll meet that goal.”
This year, 443, or 89 percent, of the state’s police agencies participated in the “Click It or Ticket” mobilization, which ran from May 18-31. As a result of the initiative, 41,442 seat belt citations were issued, down from 46,026 in 2008. During the two-week initiative, police officers also issued 891 citations for improper use of child restraints, and 6,833 for speeding. In addition, 866 individuals were arrested for drunk driving.
The three counties with the largest gain in seat belt use from 2008 to 2009 are: Hudson County, up 5.9 percent to 93.87 percent; Passaic County, up 4.4 percent to 92.66 percent and Ocean County, up 3.9 percent, to 90.05 percent.
The five counties with the highest seat belt usage rates for 2009 are: Mercer County, 94.53 percent; Bergen County, 94.45 percent; Hudson County, 93.87 percent; Middlesex County, 93.14 percent; and Morris County, 93.13 percent.
Officials also continued to call for passage of legislation that will close the back seat loophole in New Jersey’s current primary seat belt law. Those 18 and over who are seated in the back seat of a motor vehicle do not have to buckle-up.
New Jersey’s primary seat belt law applies to the driver, all front seat passengers and passengers under 18 years of age regardless of seating position. In addition, when the driver holds a Graduated Driver License, all passengers, regardless of age and seating position, must be properly restrained.
Legislation that would require belt use in all seating positions regardless of age passed the Assembly (A-870) in February 2008, but has not yet been acted upon by the Senate (S-18). Closing the loophole is one of 14 priority recommendations in the Teen Driver Study Commission report issued to Gov. Corzine and the Legislature in March 2008.
A new web site, www.njbackseatbullets.com, illustrating the dangers of riding unbuckled in the back seat, was also unveiled last week. The site contains information on the lifesaving importance of always buckling up, regardless of where you are riding in the vehicle. The site also includes videos that reinforce the potentially deadly consequences unbelted backseat passengers face in the event of a crash.
“We know that only 32 percent of adults are currently buckling up in the back seat, while only 53 percent of children and teens between the ages of eight and 18 are using seat belts in the rear of a vehicle,” Fischer said.
“While our front seat usage rate continues to climb, thanks in great part to a primary seat belt law that has been in effect since 2000, a low number of adults and young people are using restraints in the back seat. We must continue to stress the lifesaving impact a seat belt has on everyone riding in a vehicle, no matter where they’re sitting. It’s the simplest way to protect yourself and increases your chances of surviving a crash by as much as 75 percent.”
Fischer added that unbuckled passengers sitting in the rear of a vehicle risk hitting the seat back in front of them, the dashboard, the windshield or even another vehicle occupant, if a crash occurs, making them a “bullet” in the event of a crash. The passenger can also be ejected from the vehicle resulting in serious injury and often death.
Dr. Bruce Bonanno, an emergency room physician at Meadowlands Hospital and Bayshore Hospital, and the president of the New Jersey American College of Emergency Physicians, which supports legislation closing the back seat loophole, stated, “Being an emergency room doctor, I have seen firsthand what happens when people in the back seat don’t wear seat belts. Not only are injuries more severe, but there is a greater chance I will have to tell someone that a loved one has died.”
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