During biggest travel weekend, beware of states that don't enforce seat belt laws

November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving marks the heaviest travel weekend of the year and that means large increases in the number of fatal car crashes, particularly in rural areas. And nowhere is that more true than in states that don’t adequately enforce seat belt laws.

The University of Minnesota Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) today released an analysis showing a strong connection between states lacking strong seat belt laws and states with a high proportion of fatalities on rural roads.

“For some reason, the states struggling most with rural fatalities are not using one of the most powerful tools at their disposal,” said CERS Director Lee Munnich Jr., of the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of fatalities in rural areas in 2005, none had primary seat belt laws, or laws that allow law enforcement officers to pull people over for not using their seat belts. In contrast, 13 of the 20 states with the lowest percentage of fatalities in rural areas had enacted primary seat belt laws. See chart at the end of this release for how states measure up. To view a graphic map of 2005 Rural Fatalities and Primary Seat Belt Laws, By State, visit www.ruralsafety.umn.edu/state/2005/SeatBeltLaws.html>

States that enact primary seat belt laws have increased their seat belt usage rates dramatically, by an average of 14 percent, which in turn reduces the number of injuries and deaths. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA), 250 more lives per year are saved and 6,400 serious injuries per year are prevented for every one percentage-point increase in safety belt use nationally.

“It makes no sense that, in more than half of the states, law enforcement officials can stop drivers for having a burned out tail light or outdated license tags, but they are banned from enforcing the safety law that may prevent more highway fatalities than any other,” Munnich said.

This is particularly relevant in rural areas. While U.S. Census figures show that about two out of 10 (21 percent) Americans live in rural areas, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has found that about six out of ten (57 percent) percent of highway deaths happen on roads that it considers rural.

And the people dying on rural roads are not just rural residents. In fact, more than half (53 percent) of rural fatalities in the United States in 2005 involved at least one driver from an urban area.

There are many reasons for America’s high rate of rural crash deaths. Rural roads, with lighter traffic and pleasant scenery, can easily lull drivers into a false sense of security. An over-relaxed comfort level can lead to motorists driving at unsafe speeds, distracted, fatigued, unbelted or impaired, all of which increase the likelihood of a crash. Additionally, emergency response time to a rural crash and hospital transport can be lengthy and thus jeopardize survival rate. Crash victims are five to seven times more likely to die from their injuries unless they arrive at a trauma center in the first half-hour following the crash.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the most traveled day of the year is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when 13.7 million long-distance trips are made. The day after Christmas is second most traveled day during the holidays (12 million trips).

“Over 90 percent of Thanksgiving trips will be by car, and many will pass through rural areas,” said Munnich. “Those scenic rural drives 'over the river and through the woods' may seem safer than urban trips, but that's not true, particularly if you can get away with not buckling up.”

Source: University of Minnesota

Explore further: CDC: higher risk of death from leading causes in rural America

Related Stories

Time to bust the myths about seat belts

May 5, 2015

When it comes to wearing seat belts, some motorists incorrectly think they are protected by the size of their vehicle, their seating position or where they are driving, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Where is the most dangerous place to travel over the holiday?

June 28, 2007

Just in time for the most dangerous days of the year to drive – July 3 and 4 – the national Center for Excellence in Rural Safety (CERS) at the University of Minnesota today released a list of the states where Americans ...

Fatal crashes involving teen drivers drop (Update)

October 21, 2010

(AP) -- Far fewer people are dying in car crashes with teens at the wheel, but it's not because teenagers are driving more cautiously. Experts say laws are tougher, and cars and highways are safer.

Recommended for you

Mathematical framework explains diverse plant stem forms

March 23, 2017

It is well known that as plants grow, their stems and shoots respond to outside signals like light and gravity. But if plants all have similar stimuli, why are there so many different plant shapes? Why does a weeping willow ...

How chewing like a cow helped early mammals thrive

March 23, 2017

You probably haven't given much thought to how you chew, but the jaw structure and mechanics of almost all modern mammals may have something to do with why we're here today. In a new paper published this week in Scientific ...

'Pay to publish' schemes rampant in science journals

March 22, 2017

Dozens of scientific journals appointed a fictive scholar to their editorial boards on the strength of a bogus resume, researchers determined to expose "pay to publish" schemes reported Wednesday.

New study shakes the roots of the dinosaur family tree

March 22, 2017

More than a century of theory about the evolutionary history of dinosaurs has been turned on its head following the publication of new research from scientists at the University of Cambridge and Natural History Museum in ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.