Oklahomans Buckling Up At Record Rate

Continuing with a record-setting trend for the second year in a row, Department of Public Safety officials announced today that Oklahomans are buckling up at the highest rates ever.

According to two separate surveys released by the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, annual safety belt usage for front-seat drivers and passengers in the State hit a record-breaking 83.1%, up from 80.3% in 2004 and child safety seat usage is at 82.7%, up from 80.6% the year before. The national safety belt use rate is 80%.

Safety belt use in pickup trucks is also at an all-time high reaching 73.0%, up from 68.5% in 2004.

The surveys, conducted by the University of Oklahoma since 1986, serve as a yearly measure of the degree to which Oklahomans are complying with the Stateís mandatory safety belt and child safety seat laws.

"We are very excited by these numbers," said Joe McDonald, OHSO Director. "Oklahomans are heeding the message that properly used safety belts and child restraints save lives."

"Law enforcement officers and traffic safety partners around the State are to be commended for their efforts, but most importantly, the motoring public can take pride in their accomplishments. Consistently over the years, we have seen that as the safety belt rate increases, motor vehicle fatalities and injuries typically decrease."

In 1997 there were 849 traffic fatalities. Since passage of the primary safety belt law the same year, fatalities have never again been that high. Last year, there were 776 fatalities. Safety officials say this number is on the decline again this year.

While McDonald is pleased with all the use rates, he admits he is most pleased about the pickup truck rate. "Although the overall use rate for pickups remains lower than the overall statewide rate, we are seeing a 4.5 percentage point increase which is statistically significant.

"Continued zero-tolerance enforcement and hard-hitting public awareness campaigns have made a major difference in improving Oklahomaís rates," he said. "The public is becoming more aware of the importance of safety belts, but we must continue to keep these life-saving efforts in the forefront."

Since passage of the standard safety belt law in 1997, usage rates in Oklahoma have shown steady increased each year from the previous summerís survey. Prior to passage of the law, the usage rate was 47.4%. During the 1998 - 2004 years, the following increases occurred: 56.0%, 60.7%, 67.5%, 67.9%, 70.1%, 76.7%, and 80.1% respectively.

According to McDonald, crashes cost Oklahomans billions of dollars annually in medical and legal expenses, lost wages and productivity, higher insurance rates and other associated costs.

Oklahoma law states that all drivers and front seat passengers must wear safety restraints.

The current child restraint law requires all children under age 6 to be transported in a child safety seat or booster seat to avoid penalty. It states children age 6 through 12 must be restrained in either a child restraint system or a safety belt regardless of their seating position in the vehicle.

"Common sense says everyone buckles up in every position at all times a vehicle is moving," McDonald concluded.