Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Washington’s Seat Belt Use Rate Remains Near the Top High Use Rate Contributes Strongly to a Declining Death Rate

The results of the latest observational seat belt use survey in Washington were released January 5th and show that Washington continues to have one of the highest rates of seat belt use in the United States. This year’s use rate of 96.4% is a slight dip from the 2008 use rate.

Year / Rate
2005 / 95.2%
2006 / 96.3%
2007 / 96.4%
2008 / 96.5%
2009 / 96.4%

"Increases in seat belt use have contributed strongly to drops in traffic deaths in Washington," said Lowell Porter, Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. "There was a 31% drop in vehicle occupant deaths from 1986 to 2008 while vehicle miles traveled increased 34% over this same time period."

In 1986, when Washington first adopted the seat belt law, seat belt use was at 36% and there were 528 vehicle occupant deaths, compared to 362 deaths in 2008.

"We’re optimistic the number will continue on this downward trend," Porter continued. "Washington has set a goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030."

Each year a nationwide observational seat belt survey is conducted. The 2009 survey in Washington comprised 87,946 vehicle driver and passenger observations. It was conducted statewide on a variety or road types following research protocols established by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Studies conducted in Washington show that medical costs from crashes amount to more than $276 million each year in Washington. An unbelted vehicle occupant’s medical costs average $11,000 more per collision than those of a belted vehicle occupant’s.

"Our high seat belt use rate is a reflection of the hard work of our law enforcement community," said Tom Robbins, Chief of Police in Wenatchee and Co-Chair of the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chief’s Traffic Committee. "Officers are willing to write seat belt tickets because they respond to collisions and see first hand that seat belts save lives and reduce injuries."

The report shows that seat belt use is highest for people in passenger vehicles (96.8%) and SUV’s (97.3%), with vans rating third (95.5%) and pickups at (94.5%).

"Prior to the adoption of the Click It or Ticket Project in 2002, seat belt use among pickup truck drivers was a full 10 percentage points lower than other vehicle types so we’ve made great progress in getting people to buckle up in their trucks," Porter said.

An analysis by road type shows seat belt use is highest on state highways and interstate freeways and lowest on city streets and county roads. To view Target Zero, Washington’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, click here.

For additional information about the Washington Traffic Safety Commission, visit

Media Release Contacts:
Jonna VanDyk, WTSC Occupant Protection Program Manager, 360.586.3870
MJ Haught, WTSC Communications Manager 360.725.9885

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