Louisiana motorists match record-high seat belt use in 2011

The following is a Press Release from Louisiana Highway State Commission:

A recently completed observational survey found that 77.7 percent of Louisiana motorists had their seat belts fastened, matching the record-high rate achieved in 2005.

The 2011 survey represents an increase of almost two percentage points over the 75.9 percent rate recorded in 2010.

The 77.7 percent compliance rate is the highest since 1986 when the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission first started surveying safety belt use.

A usage rate of 77.7 percent was first recorded in the Commission's 2005 survey, which was conducted a few months before Hurricane Katrina.

The Commission's annual surveys in 2006-2010 showed compliance dipping from the all-time high rate achieved months prior to Katrina.

Safety officials believe anxiety among motorists and other conditions caused by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav and the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010 may have contributed to the modest reductions in seat belt use between 2006 and 2010.

"We've come a long way since the mid-1980s when only 12 percent of motorists were using their safety belts," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "Seat belts save lives and reduce the severity of injuries in crashes. We believe increased seat belt use is among the factors that have led to recent reductions in highway deaths in Louisiana."

The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission conducts programs throughout the year encouraging motorists to buckle up.

The programs include broadcast announcements and grants that State Police, local police agencies and sheriffs' departments use to step up their enforcement of the state's seat belt laws.

Research conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has demonstrated that public outreach combined with enforcement is an effective method of getting motorists to buckle up.

NHTSA provides funds to Louisiana and other states to conduct such programs.

The highest rate of seat belt use by vehicle type was 85.5 percent for occupants of vans, followed by 80.1 for automobile occupants, 79.2 for SUV occupants, and 70.0 for pickup truck occupants. The greatest gain by vehicle type was 3.5 percentage points among van occupants.

Seat belt use in Louisiana has traditionally lagged behind the national average. The national average seat belt use rate in 2010 was 85 percent.

Louisiana has what is called a "primary enforcement" law, meaning that officers can stop and ticket people they observe violating the seat belt law.

Louisiana law requires drivers and all passengers to wear seat belts while a vehicle is in motion.

According to NHTSA, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate to critical injuries by 50 percent.

Sixty percent of the people killed in crashes in Louisiana in 2010 were not buckled up. An estimated eight lives are saved in Louisiana for every one percentage point increase in seat belt use.

Observers at 418 locations across Louisiana conducted the LHSC's 2011 seat belt use survey. A total of 61,185 drivers and front-seat passengers were observed at the 418 locations.

Observations were made on drivers and passengers in privately owned vehicles. Applied Technology Research Corporation of Baton Rouge performed the survey.

Seat belt use by drivers and front-seat passengers by region in the 2010 survey was as follows:

  • Lafayette                     80.5 percent
  • Houma/Thibodaux      79.6 percent
  • Baton Rouge               78.5 percent
  • Shreveport                   78.2 percent
  • Monroe                      77.8 percent
  • New Orleans               74.9 percent
  • Lake Charles               74.8 percent
  • Alexandria                  74.8 percent