COLUMBIA — Motorists in South Carolina are buckling up at an all-time record high, the S.C. Department of Public Safety announced, saying a recent survey by the University of South Carolina showed the state’s safety belt usage rate is at 93.9 percent.
The rate increased 2.3 percentage points from last year, when the rate was 91.6 percent. The seat belt usage rate has been at or above 90 percent for five straight years.
The new survey was based on traffic counts conducted in 16 counties and focused on drivers and passengers who used shoulder-style safety belts in June 2016.
Officials at the SCDPS attribute the increase in safety belt usage to continuing enforcement and safety education efforts.
“Safety belt usage is a critically important factor in whether a motorist survives a serious crash,” said SCDPS Director Leroy Smith. “Our goal is Target Zero traffic deaths, and getting there involves everyone pulling together. This latest statistic shows that motorists are complying with the law and following the best practice to keep themselves safe on the roads.”
The SCDPS Office of Highway Safety and Justice Programs commissioned the observational survey by USC’s Department of Statistics as a part of the state’s annual Buckle Up, South Carolina (BUSC) Memorial Day campaign.
Among the findings were the following:
• Women continue to be more likely than men to use safety belts — 95.5 percent compared to 92.5 percent.
• Car occupants were more likely to wear safety belts than truck occupants — 94.5 percent compared to 90.4 percent.
• Rural occupants and urban occupants had similar rates of safety belt usage — 94.2 percent compared to 93.7 percent.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, regular safety belt use is the single most effective way to protect people and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes.
When worn correctly, safety belts are shown to reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and by 60 percent in pickup trucks, SUVs, and minivans.
The safety belt is also a driver’s strongest defense against impaired drivers.
An unbelted occupant in a wreck actually suffers three crashes:
• Vehicle collision when the vehicle slams into another vehicle or fixed object (guard rail, tree, etc.)
• Human collision when their body slams into other occupants and/or interior of vehicle, or is thrown out of the vehicle through one of the windows;
• Internal collision when internal body parts slam against each other and/or the body’s skeletal structure, causing internal bleeding.
BUSC is a statewide safety belt enforcement and public information campaign coordinated by SCDPS in conjunction with national and regional enforcement efforts. The campaign includes an enforcement mobilization and public service announcements.
The goals are an increase in safety belt usage, a decrease in traffic fatalities and serious injuries, and greater awareness about the role safety belts have in keeping motorists safe.