Study shows jump in seat belt usage in state

By NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – A new study shows that an increasing number of Mississippians are using seat belts, thanks to the efforts of state law enforcers.
Completed in late 2009, the survey was a cooperative effort of Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center, the Mississippi Office of Highway Safety and the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.
The report finds that slightly more than 76 percent of Mississippi residents contacted said they now use seat belts, up from 71.3 percent in 2008.
The increase most likely can be attributed to the work of law enforcement officers throughout the state, said project director David Parrish, an SSRC senior research associate.
“Their constant emphasis on Mississippi’s primary seat belt law continues to save countless lives year after year,” Parrish said.
Mississippi Highway Patrolman Ray Hall agrees that drivers are getting the message.
“We have noticed more seat belt usage on the highways,” said Hall. “I think people are getting the point now that a seat belt can save their life and they are strapping them on.”
The survey data also shows that passenger car drivers wear seat belts 78.6 percent of the time, while pickup truck usage is only at 69.1 percent.
“Though pickup trucks were the vehicles with the lowest usage rate, this is an increase of 6.8 percent over the 2008 rate of 62.3 percent,” Parrish said.
Parrish said the 2008 state traffic fatality rate, the most recent complete data, shows 26.65 deaths per 100,000 residents, which is 117 percent higher than the 12.25 percent national average.
As a result of this “sad and astounding” figure, residents “must continue to be challenged” to increase seat belt usage, he said.
“There were 783 fatalities in Mississippi in 2008, and so very many may have been avoided if seat belts had been in use,” Parrish said.
The 16 Northeast Mississippi counties had 50 fatalities in 2008, a number cut to 23 in 2009. Hall said he feels that decrease was due in part to the primary seat belt law.