A 2014 seat belt study released by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) shows 87 percent of local drivers are wearing their seat belts, the highest number ever recorded in Rhode Island. The state now ranks first in New England, with statewide usage increasing more than 15 percentage points since 2008.
"We are happy to see that, more and more, people are getting the message that buckling up saves lives," RIDOT Director Michael P. Lewis said. "We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to push that number even higher."
The study, conducted for RIDOT by the Preusser Research Group of Connecticut in June 2014, observed 16,399 drivers and passengers at 125 sites around the state. Driver seat belt use was highest in Bristol and Washington counties (both 87 percent), while the greatest percentage of passengers buckled up in Providence County (91 percent).
These continued gains can be attributed in part to last year's passage of a permanent primary seat belt law - as well as to public awareness campaigns conducted by RIDOT and its safety partners and increased enforcement through the Click it or Ticket program.
Although encouraging, the study shows that there is still room for improvement. For example, there remains a gap between the sexes in seat belt use, with females more likely to buckle up when driving (89 percent versus 84 percent of male drivers). Additional emphasis also must be placed on drivers of pickup trucks, who showed the lowest usage overall at 76 percent.
Buckling up is one of the most effective things that drivers and passengers can do to protect themselves in a crash. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts saved nearly 63,000 lives nationally from 2008 to 2012. Worn correctly, safety restraints reduce the risk of fatal injury for a front-seat occupant by 45 percent, and the risk of a moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.
These stats are important to keep in mind with the busy holiday travel period approaching, and RIDOT is joining local law enforcement agencies and safety advocates to spread the message about proper belt use. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, teams of officers will be monitoring seat belt use throughout the state with the ultimate goal of safety in mind. In 2012 alone, 301 people were killed over the Thanksgiving weekend on the nation's highways, and 60 percent were not wearing their seat belts.
A copy of the full report is available on the RIDOT website at www.dot.ri.gov/safetyreports.