Not enough, I can tell you that much, since it should be each and every time, every person. Just skipping your seat belt once will increase your chance of serious injury or death in an auto accident by half for that quick trip to the grocery store or wherever you’re trying to go. Nobody looks cool or feels more comfortable after they’ve been ejected from their vehicle. But the bright side is most Washington drivers and passengers know better, and wear seat belts 97% of the time. That’s a big jump from the national average of 86%.

Here is the data, straight from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, on seat belt usage in the modern US driver. It highlights ways that law enforcement agencies and communities have made putting on a seat belt a habit.

Primary seat belt laws: A primary seat belt law means that an officer can pull a vehicle over if he or she sees that the passengers are not wearing a seat belt, even if the driver is doing nothing else wrong. So you could get a ticket just because you don’t have your seat belt on.

In Washington, it is a primary law that ALL people in the vehicle must wear their seat belts. It goes one step farther and requires that children must also be in the proper child safety seat for their age. Here’s the lingo straight from the law books:

(3) Every person sixteen years of age or older operating or riding in a motor vehicle shall wear the safety belt assembly in a properly adjusted and securely fastened manner.

(4) No person may operate a motor vehicle unless all child passengers under the age of sixteen years are either: (a) Wearing a safety belt assembly or (b) are securely fastened into an approved child restraint device.

Click it or ticket. Sound familiar? Then it’s working. Education campaigns in the guise of short-term, high visibility enforcement have been shown to increase seat belt usage. These are checkpoints set up by state patrol that randomly check people for seat belt usage. These efforts are highly publicized through media campaigns, written on the digital traffic management signs over highways, and are obvious to the drivers who gets stopped because they were spotted during one. Certainly if they’re ticketed they’ll tell their friends and family, for better or for worse. The net effect is that it convinces the public to use that thing with the strap and buckle that is in just about every single car on the roads today.

Another word to the wise on seat belt usage. Frontal air bags have been standard equipment in all passenger cars since model year 1998 and all SUVs, pickups and vans since model year 1999. Since it’s rare to see vehicles older than that still in one piece, it’s safe to say every time you get in a car nowadays you are sitting behind an airbag. There’s a reason why all those sun visors bark at drivers to wear their seat belts if there’s an air bag waiting to deploy. Chances are, the car will “know” if its passengers are wearing a seat belt or not, and won’t deploy the air bag if they aren’t. These are interconnected systems. So, an airbag wouldn’t help you if you got into a crash, which is very unfortunate considering they can reduce serious injury by over 50% in some types of common crashes.

If you’ve got children in your car, make sure you are aware of child safety seat guidelines. Here’s the law in Washington that is specific to children’s motor vehicle safety. In a nutshell:

Effective June 1, 2007, children less than eight years old must be restrained in child restraint systems, unless the child is four feet nine inches or taller. A child who is eight years old or older, or four feet nine inches or taller, must be properly restrained either with the motor vehicle’s safety belt or an appropriately fitting child restraint system. Children under thirteen years old must be transported in rear seats where it is practical to do so.

The fine for improperly restrained children in motor vehicles is at least $112 per child.

If you or someone you love is in a car accident, give me a call. Bill Coats Law can help you recover financially while you focus on recovering your health. Call 360-303-0601 today and set up a time for a free consultation at our downtown Bellingham office.

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