For decades, awareness and enforcement campaigns steadily increased the number of motorists using seat belts and decreased the number of traffic fatalities, but a new study indicates that use of these critical life-saving devices is in decline.
According to Erie Insurance, the decline in seat belt use is likely tied to age. The company’s survey of U.S. residents across four generations revealed a further decline in seat belt use with each generation.
Baby boomers (ages 51-65) indicated the highest rate of seat belt use at 94 percent. Generation X (35-50) had an 87 percent rate of seat belt use, followed by Millennials at 81 percent. But just 77 percent of Generation Z (14 to 17 years old) respondents said they use their seat belt.
These troubling numbers show the difficulty of getting safety messages through to younger drivers, who have not been exposed to the same safety awareness campaigns and messages as their elders.
Sgt. Jim Seay of the Fort Wayne Police Department told WFFT that he believes the lack of seat belt use among younger motorists is tied to distraction.
“You get into the car, and you’re texting when you get in there. You start it up and then you drive off,” Sgt. Seay told WFFT.
Last year, the Insurance Council of Texas attributed record-high traffic fatalities in the state in part to lack of seat belt use. Driver distraction, alcohol use, and speeding were also factors that contributed to soaring traffic fatality rates.
Traffic fatalities have also reached new levels nationwide, with 35,092 people killed on U.S. roads and highways in 2015 – a 7.2 percent jump from 2014 rates and the highest single-year spike seen since 1966.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), “In the instant you buckle up before driving or riding in the front seat of a car or truck, you cut your risk of a fatal injury in a crash nearly in half. That’s a huge return on the investment of the mere seconds it takes to put on a seat belt.”
NHTSA partnered with state and local law enforcement agencies across the country for the annual Click It or Ticket seat belt enforcement campaign from May 21 to June 3 as part of an ongoing effort to encourage motorists to buckle up.