CHARLESTON, WV (LOOTPRESS) – The West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) announced that West Virginia’s statewide seat belt usage rate is 88.12 percent for 2021, down from 90.2 percent for 2019. The national average is 90 percent. The previous record for West Virginia seat belt compliance was 90.53 percent in 2018.
“We want all West Virginians to be as safe as possible when they’re on our roads,” said Gov. Jim Justice. “Seat belts save lives. I’m asking all West Virginians to buckle up and keep each other safe.”
Seat belt utilization in West Virginia had increased considerably over the previous seven years. The overall trend of increased seat belt use affirms that WV GHSP and its traffic safety partners across the state are providing effective occupant protection programs to the citizens of West Virginia. The GHSP’s educational efforts, Click It or Ticket campaigns, and high visibility enforcement have helped to increase West Virginia’s seat belt usage rates since the passage of the primary seat belt law in 2013.
“We have seen a lot of troubling trends since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the spring 2020 shutdown, speeding became a terrible issue on roads in West Virginia and nationwide,” said Bob Tipton, GHSP Director. “Never drive while impaired. Never drive while distracted by your phone. Always buckle your seat belt. It seems that some people have forgotten the basics.”
West Virginia’s first statewide seat belt survey, which is required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was completed in 1998 with a usage rate of 56.5 percent. An annual survey has been conducted every year since except 2020 which was waived due to the pandemic. West Virginia’s statewide rate has continued to trend upward overall every year since the implementation of a primary seat belt law in 2013. In addition, the number of fatalities and crashes on West Virginia roadways has trended downward since the primary seat belt law went into effect.
To help drivers and passengers remember the importance of buckling up, the GHSP and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are teaming up for Operation Crash Reduction October 8-11. This effort is focused on Delaware, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia — a region that sees some of the nation’s highest numbers of traffic crash-induced fatalities. From 2010 to 2019, October was the most dangerous month on West Virginia’s roads, with a total of 314 traffic fatalities during that time.
Additionally, a statewide seat belt enforcement mobilization begins October 8. West Virginia law enforcement officers will be out in full force, ticketing seat belt violators who are caught traveling without a buckled seat belt or transporting unrestrained children.
“One of the potential consequences of having a lower seat belt usage rate is a higher fatality rate. We track fatalities on West Virginia roads annually. Though our data won’t be complete until early 2022, I see a trend that is very concerning: our fatality numbers are up this year compared to the past three years. Is that a direct correlation or a coincidence? We won’t be sure until we can analyze the data. But one thing I know for sure is this: seat belts save lives. It is vitally important that West Virginians start buckling up again,” Tipton concluded.
To conduct the scientific study, observations were randomly scheduled for all days of the week during daylight hours between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Observers recorded information on vehicle type, driver gender, and the use of seat belts and mobile devices while driving. Information was also collected on front seat passengers. An independent consulting firm has certified the results, ensuring their accuracy and objectivity.
Research has shown that lap and shoulder combination seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent when used, and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent (NHTSA, 2011). Drivers and passengers of light trucks reduce their risk of fatal injury by sixty percent (Kahane, 2015).
For more information about seat belts, please visit www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts. For more information about the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program, visit www.dmv.wv.gov/ghsp or call 304-926-2509.