Seat Belts Save Lives!
Dale G. Larrimore, Esquire
It is well known that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death in the U.S.[i] But what is perhaps less well known is that the death rate for drivers and passengers in America’s most rural counties is up to 10 times higher than those in the most urban counties.[ii] The Center for Disease Control recently completed an analysis of the rural death rate from vehicle crashes and concluded that vehicle occupants in rural areas of the United States were less likely to use seat belts and more likely to die in vehicle crashes.[iii]
“Although we know motor vehicle crash-related deaths have been historically higher in rural areas, this study shows that the more rural the area, the higher the risk,” said Laurie Beck, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention. “It also helps us confirm what works to prevent these crash deaths, such as primary enforcement seat belt laws and seat belt use.”
The CDC’s analysis of nationwide statistics revealed that 61.3 percent of drivers and passengers in rural counties were not wearing seat belts at the time of a fatal crash. In urban counties, 44.4 percent of the vehicle occupants were not wearing seat belts in fatal vehicle accidents.
In a recent article in The Philadelphia Inquirer,[iv] Jason Nark noted that PennDOT’s statistics from 2014 to 2016 indicated that 69 percent of the drivers and passengers in fatal crashes in Pennsylvania’s four most rural counties were not wearing seat belts, whereas only 29 percent of the occupants of vehicles in fatal crashes in Pennsylvania’s four most urban counties were not protected by a seat belt.
In his story, Mr. Nark also quoted Nichole Morris, director of the HumanFIRST Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, who indicated that there may also be a cultural component to the lack of seat belt use in rural areas. “Pickup truck drivers are less likely to use seat belts than drivers of other motor vehicles,” she said. Morris also noted that rural drivers have less access to Uber and Lyft. “The cities make it so easy to not drive drunk.”
In an interesting anomaly, the most urban county in Pennsylvania is the county with the lowest percentage of seat belt usage. From 2011 to 2014, only 40% of Philadelphia motorists were using seat belts when involved in a vehicle crashes. There was only one other county (Beaver County) with less than 75% rate of seat belt usage. On the other hand, in 53 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties over 80 per cent of the vehicle occupants in automobile accidents were using seat belts.[v]
Not surprisingly, the county in Pennsylvania with the highest percentage of traffic-related deaths is Philadelphia, the county with the lowest rate of seat belt usage.
According to Ashley Schoch, a PennDot spokeswoman, Gov. Wolf’s administration has dedicated $3 million to seat belt enforcement this year.
"We know seat belts save lives," said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D. "These findings remind us that no matter what kind of road you are traveling on, it is important to everyone to buckle up every time on every trip. "
[i] CDC. WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System). Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2010. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars.
[ii] CDC, Press Release September 17, 2017, “Rural Americans less likely to wear seat belts, more likely to die in crashes”
[iii] Id., citing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to identify passenger vehicle occupant deaths among adults and data from CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to estimate how often drivers and passengers used seat belts.
[iv] “Rural motorists wear belts less, die more,” Jason Nark, Philadelphia Inquirer, September 28, 2017.
[v] 2014 Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics, PennDOT publication, a statistical five year review of traffic crash reports compiled by the Bureau of Maintenance and Operations of the Department of Transportation.