Seat belt usage has been shown to reduce traffic accident deaths.

Click-it or Ticket seat belt poster.

With the roads full of holiday travelers, here’s some good news: A new study has found that more Coloradans are wearing seat belts. According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the study found that 85.2% of people in vehicles are buckling up, compared to 82.4% in last year’s study. However, the state is still not up to the national average of 87%.

Highs and Lows

The highest rate of seat belt wearing was in vans (with an 89.2% rate) and SUVs (with an 89.9% rate), CDOT reports. Summit County has the highest percentage of people who wear seat belts in vehicles, a full 96%. Other counties with high rates of usage include El Paso, Grand, La Plata, Larimer, Logan, and Montezuma, all over 90%.

On the other end of the scale, Denver County is among the counties with the lowest percentage of seat belt wearers, at 73.7%. The Denver County rate is way below last year’s 83.1% rate. Pueblo’s rate was 70.8%, and Baca, a rural county in the eastern plains, had the lowest usage rate of 67.1 percent.

Statewide, pickup trucks (77.6%) and commercial vehicles (73.9%) had the lowest percentage of seat belt wearers.

It is interesting to note that urban counties in the Front Range typically have higher rates of seat belt usage, and rural counties on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains have generally lower rates. There is a higher proportion of pickup trucks in these rural counties, and those tend to have lower seat belt usage rates.

Study Used Direct Observation

The Institute of Transportation Management at Colorado State University conducted the survey between May 31 and June 13 of this year. To conduct the survey, trained observers at 715 sites in 29 counties directly observed drivers and front seat outboard passengers in 117,889 vehicles, including cars, vans, SUVs, pickup trucks, and commercial vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less. Eighty-five percent of traffic-related fatalities in Colorado took place in the 29 counties.

Last year, 156 people who weren’t wearing seat belts lost their lives in Colorado traffic accidents. If everyone had buckled up, nearly half of the victims would have lived.

Throughout the United States in 2013, seat belts saved an estimated 12,584 lives.

What Exactly Are Colorado’s Seat Belt Laws?

CDOT detailed specifics of Colorado’s seat belt laws:

  • Adults: Colorado has a secondary enforcement law for adult drivers and front-seat passengers. Drivers can be ticketed for violating the seat belt law if they are stopped for another traffic violation.
  • Teens: Colorado’s Graduated Drivers Licensing (GDL) law requires all drivers under 18 and their passengers, no matter what their age, to wear seat belts. This is a primary enforcement law, meaning teens can be pulled over simply for not wearing a seat belt or having passengers without seat belts.
  • Children: Colorado’s child passenger safety law is primary enforcement, meaning the driver can be stopped and ticketed if an officer sees an unrestrained or improperly restrained child under age 16 in the vehicle.

Primary Enforcement’s Role

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) writes that research shows that more people wear seat belts in states with primary enforcement laws. In 2010, there was 89% usage in states with primary enforcement laws and only 80% in states with secondary enforcement laws. A primary enforcement law means that an officer can stop a vehicle and issue a ticket if a driver or passenger covered by the law is not buckled up. In states like Colorado, with a secondary enforcement law, a police officer can only issue a ticket for not wearing a seat belt if a driver is suspected of committing another offense. In 2013, 33 states did not have a primary enforcement law covering all seating positions.

The CDC encourages states without primary enforcement laws to adopt them, for everyone in a vehicle, not just those in the front seat. Fines should be high enough for the laws are effective. Finally, states need to make sure that officers are enforcing the laws, and provide campaigns to educate the public about the importance of wearing seat belts.

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