Steps needed to increase Idahoans' use of seat belts

Brent Jennings, PE
Highway Safety Manager

Research shows that seatbelts routinely save lives during car crashes. Idaho’s seat belt law was enacted on July 1, 1986, as a secondary law, meaning enforcement can only come if a motorist is stopped for another traffic violation.

The law was amended on July 1, 2003, to cover all seated positions. In 2003, the observed seat belt usage rate for Idaho was 72 percent. This rate peaked in 2006 at 80 percent and today it stands at 79 percent. In essence the seat belt usage rate in Idaho has remained flat for the past 10 years; not very impressive.

Recently the Office of Highway Safety invited a team of experts to do an assessment on Idaho’s occupant protection (seat belt) program with the goal of looking for ways to improve the usage rate. Here are just some of the preliminary findings and suggestions from this assessment:

  • Enhance Idaho’s seat belt law to allow for primary enforcement.
  • Enhance Idaho’s seat belt law to include the imposition of a fine of not less than $25 per unrestrained occupant.
  • Enhance Idaho’s child passenger safety law to require all children up to eight years of age, up to 65 pounds, and up to four feet, nine inches, tall to be secured in an age and size appropriate child restraint.
  • Enhance Idaho’s child passenger safety law by eliminating the exemption for nursing a child or attending to a child’s physiological needs.
  • Prohibit the transportation of children in the back of a pick-up truck or other open-bed vehicle.
  • Develop and implement strategies to promote sustained enforcement between mobilizations among local law enforcement agencies.
  • Use data driven approaches to deploy law enforcement to occupant protection priority areas.
  • Use the Click it or Ticket (CIOT) message in Idaho to promote continuity of messaging so that all state traffic safety advocates speak with one voice.
  • Install permanent seat belt messaging road signs statewide.
  • Conduct periodic observational studies for child restraint use.
  • Develop and implement occupant protection programs in all schools and at all grade levels with the involvement of school resource officers, counselors, health teachers, and others.

Using a seat belt is the single most effective thing people can do to protect themselves in a crash. Research has shown that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used correctly, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat occupants (ages five and older) of passenger cars by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. Furthermore, research on the effectiveness of child restraints has found them to reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants younger than one year old, and by 54 percent for children, one to four years old, in passenger cars.

I don’t believe Idaho can be truly satisfied with the static seatbelt usage rate of the last 10 years. When individuals are asked how many fatalities are acceptable to their family unit, the answer is always zero. Idaho must be willing to take the next steps to embrace some of the recommendations from the assessment team. The Office of Highway Safety stands ready to be part of these efforts in order to move Towards Zero Deaths.

Published 9-6-13