NJ’s Front Seat Belt Use Rate Increases For 14th Straight Year

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Pam Fischer

TRENTON – New Jersey’s front seat belt usage rate increased 1.06% in 2010 to a record 93.73%, up from 92.67% last year, Division of Highway Traffic Safety Director Pam Fischer announced Thursday.

An observational survey conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology immediately following the State’s late May “Click It or Ticket” seat belt campaign determined the new rate, which increased for the 14th consecutive year. This continued gain in belt usage is significant. Using guidelines set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a 1.06% increase in front seat belt use will prevent eight fatalities, 236 serious injuries and 177 minor injuries, and will save New Jersey nearly $57 million dollars in crash-related economic costs annually.

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Fischer noted, however, that only 27.09% of adults 18 years of age and older are currently buckling up in the back seat, down from 32% last year. In addition, the number of children and teens between the ages of eight and 18 buckling up in the back seat declined, from 53.06% in 2009 to 36.97% this year. The overall back seat belt usage rate dropped to 47.77%, down from 51.73%. Since 2000, 272 adult back seat riders have lost their lives in motor vehicle crashes in New Jersey.

“When New Jersey’s primary seat belt law took effect in 2000, the front seat belt usage rate stood at 74%,” Fischer said. “That rate increased steadily every year, as more motorists learned, first-hand, how buckling up, every ride, saves lives. While our primary seat belt law, has in great part, helped us achieve an impressive front seat belt usage rate, we must now reinforce this same critical, life-saving message for those riding in the back seat.”

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On January 18, 2010, legislation was signed into law requiring all adult occupants riding in the back seat of a motor vehicle to buckle up. A secondary offense, the new law allows police to issue summonses to unbuckled back seat occupants, 18 years of age and older, when the vehicle they are riding in is stopped for another violation. Adult passengers who fail to buckle up when riding in the back are subject to a $46 fine. (Under the state’s current primary seat belt law, all motorists and passengers in the front seat, as well as all passengers under 18, who are not properly restrained in a seat belt or car seat also face a $46 fine. This ticket is issued to the driver.)

Fischer added that in the event of a crash, an unbuckled back seat passenger can become a “bullet,” hitting the front seat, the dashboard, the windshield or even another vehicle occupant. The passenger can also be ejected from the vehicle resulting in serious injury and often death.

According to New Jersey State Police Major Kevin Burke, “The evidence is overwhelming. People disregarding seat belt laws fare much worse when crashes occur. They are injured and killed at many times the rate of motorists wearing seatbelts. Even if seatbelt scofflaws don’t value their own lives, unbuckled drivers are more likely to loose control of their vehicles during an initial impact and injure or kill others in a secondary collision.”

“Education and enforcement remain critical to our unified effort to reach 100 percent seat belt usage by all motorists,” said Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez. “From our newest drivers to those who are more experienced behind the wheel, the statistical data demonstrates that our consistent message of Click It or Ticket is resonating with all drivers.”

This year, 406, or 82%, of the State’s police agencies participated in the “Click It or Ticket” mobilization, which ran from May 24 to June 6. The Division of Highway Traffic Safety provided federal grants of $4,000 each to 157 police agencies throughout the state for saturation patrols and seat belt checkpoints. The remaining departments participated in the program using their own funds.

During the two-week mobilization, 35,671 seat belt citations were issued by the 406 police agencies, down from 41,442 in 2009. Police officers also wrote 1,028 citations for improper use of child restraints and 5,832 for speeding, while 592 individuals were arrested for drunk driving.

The three counties with the largest gain in front seat belt use from 2009 to 2010 are: Burlington, up 3.42% to 95.36%; Camden, up 2.56% to 94.30%; and Somerset, up 2.55% to 94.39%. The five counties with the highest belt usage rates for 2010 are: Burlington (95.36%); Morris (95.17%); Middlesex (95.15%); Bergen (94.74%); and Somerset (94.39%).

A town-by-town breakdown of the citations issued during the “Click It or Ticket” program, as well as related statistics, are available on the Division’s web site, at http://www.state.nj.us/oag/hts/clickitorticket.html


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