Drivers in rural parts of the country may feel like seat belts aren’t that important given the lack of traffic on country roads, but that can be a deadly presumption. According to federal health researchers, death rates for drivers and passengers in the most rural counties of the U.S. are three to 10 times higher than the national average, due largely to low seat belt usage.
Dr. Laurie Beck, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, said that a new study indicates seat belt use is key is to driving down the number of motor vehicle crash deaths in rural areas.
“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,” Dr. Beck said. “It also helps us confirm what works to prevent these crash deaths, such as primary enforcement seat belt laws and seat belt use. These new findings will allow us to better target our prevention efforts as we work toward zero road traffic deaths in the U.S.”
For the study, the CDC used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) to identify passenger vehicle occupant deaths among adults ages 18 years or older. Data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) was used to estimate how often drivers and passengers used seat belts.
Among the key findings of the CDC’s study:
- In 2014, death rates for adult drivers and passengers grew as areas became more rural. Death rates per 100,000 population varied regionally:
- In the West, from 3.9 in the most urban counties to 40.0 in the most rural counties;
- In the South, from 6.8 in the most urban counties to 29.2 in the most rural counties;
- In the Midwest, from 5.3 in the most urban counties to 25.8 in the most rural counties;
- In the Northeast, from 3.5 in the most urban counties to 10.8 in the most rural counties reported in the study.
- Similarly, the proportion of drivers and passengers who were not buckled up at the time of the fatal crash was 61.3 percent in the most rural counties, compared with 44.4 percent in the most urban counties.
- Self-reported seat belt use was lower in rural counties, ranging from 74.7 percent in the most rural counties, to 88.8 percent in the most urban counties.
- Seat belt use in rural areas was significantly higher in primary enforcement states (where an officer can ticket a driver or passenger for failure to use seat belts) than in secondary enforcement states (where an officer can issue a ticket for failure to use seat belts only when another violation has occurred).
“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 for everyone to buckle up every time on every trip.”