Seat Belt Usage Rates Decline for Missouri Drivers #BuckleUp

Become a Habitual Seat Belt User

We rarely get to use the word “habitual” in a positive sense.  If we all became habitual seat belt users, our roadways would be safer.   Wearing a seat belt is the simplest thing we can do to improve safety on the roadway.   Driving a motor vehicle is one of the riskiest things we do on a daily basis.  When we climb behind the wheel of a vehicle, most of us have to feel that we are in some kind of control of our destiny or we would not.  No matter how safe we are, we cannot control the driving errors of others. Motor vehicle collisions happen to the safest of drivers.  Since we cannot control other driver’s behaviors, wearing a seat belt is the most proactive and best defenses against other’s bad driving decisions. If you drive in the metro St. Louis area or any other heavy traffic, you know that you can follow all the rules and still have someone hit you.

Concerning statistics have revealed that instead of increasing seat belt usage rates, Missourians seat belt usage has dropped. The national average has been around 91.6 percent and some states have much higher seat belt usage rates and lower fatality rates.  At our peak usage, Missouri only boasted a 89.1 percent usage rate, however, now we have dropped to around 87 percent in seat belt usage. While experts have a lot of theories on why Missourians are failing to buckle us, the result is increased injuries and fatalities.

Most motor vehicle crashes happen within 10 miles of one’s residence. So, failing to buckle up simply because you are making a short drive is missing the risk window in which we all operate daily.

Fatality rates according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol ( latest data from 2021) show that  1,016 persons were killed in traffic crashes in Missouri which was 3 percent more than in 2020.  Of all persons killed, the age group most overrepresented was ages 25-34.  Of all fatal traffic crashes, 58.2 percent involved only one vehicle.  Not every fatality can be prevented by a seat belt. Seat belts promise to keep you in the vehicle.  Remaining in a vehicle during a crash directly impacts your survivability rate.  The fatality rate for someone “ejected” is about 81 percent thus your ability to remain in the vehicle during a crash is critical. We do evaluate the crash data across the state of Missouri and it is concerning just how many fatalities and serious injuries involve unrestrained vehicle occupants.  Again, seat belts to not promise injury, but in every scenario the immediate question is “Would the injury have been so bad?” or worse, “Might that person have survived if they were restrained?”  We know those are the questions immediately asked because we talk with many injured and family members of those fatally injured.  It is a devastating thought process AFTER the crash.

As trial attorneys that represent those seriously injured or killed in motor vehicle crashes, we see the devastation of life-changing injuries.  In our 20 years of representing those seriously injured, we cannot recall a single incident where the injured person said they “wished they had not been wearing a seat belt”.   The opposite sentiment is repeatedly true.

Do not wait for a life-changing injury to influence whether or not you wear your seat belt.

Missouri–We Can Do Better Than This

Even more alarming than the overall drop in seat belt usage is the decreased seat belt usage rate among teens.  Teens are developing their driving skills for life.  Teen seat belt surveys have been conducted yearly since 2004 by the Missouri Safety Center during the month of April.  In 2020, the study was conducted in October 2020 rather than April 2020 due to Covid closures.  In 2022, seat belt usage for all teenage drivers and front seat passengers combined was 71.8 percent which is about a 3.7 percent decrease when compared to previous years of findings. Female teenage drivers seat belt usage was about 15 percent higher than male teenage drivers.  The upside of this is that we can improve this number and reduce fatalities.

Our firm tracks the crash data in Missouri thus, we can see the lack of seat belt usage on a daily basis.  While reading those crash scenarios, one has to wonder how many of those unrestrained drivers or occupants would have been less injured had they been wearing a seat belt.   We don’t know for certain, but we do know that seat belts reduce injuries and save lives.   Teaching your kids to be seat belt users is one of the best habits you can teach through modeling..  What we know is that teens who use seat belts typically have parents and care givers who model that behavior. The same goes for distracted driving. As a parent, I cannot tell my kids to wear a seat belt when I do not model the practice.  We know that seat belts save lives and we have been aware of this since the 1980’s. Children of the 80’s are now parents if not grandparents, meaning, we’ve had three to four decades to learn.

You cannot guarantee that you can make your teen driver wear a seat belt when you are not with them.  We know that teen drivers are less experienced drivers.  In our line of work, we know that at any given second you can be a victim of a driving error that causes a crash. It may not even be your driving error.  For most of us, wearing a seat belt is habit and we naturally start  reaching for the seat belt to click as soon as get into a vehicle.  Many of us do not even  consciously even think about it any more.  I cannot promise that my teen will wear the seat belt every time. In order to not wear a seat belt, she will have to fight the instinctual habit we have been forming every time we get in the car since her birth.   I too hope that it is a habit.

A really nightmarish scenario that we see weekly is the car full of teens and young adults involved in a crash where no one was wearing a seat belt.    As the parent of a teen driver, this scenario has cost me sleep.  Like all parents, I worry about my teen on the roadway and can only hope I have modeled the correct safety behaviors that my teens will replicate.

We can work to increase our teen’s use of seat belts through promotion of safety, reminders and modeling.   Again, we do not offer parenting advice.  Every parent I know has the same goal—to keep our kid’s safe.  Since car crashes are the  leading causes of serious injury and death to teens, it is a sober reminder to encourage our teens to buckle up.    Car crashes are traumatic and can be life-changing at any age.  While you have influence over your teen or young adult, please use it.

If you have been hurt in a motor vehicle crash, you have questions.  You absolutely should engage in the “free consultation” for free information and the ‘what not to do’s” after a crash.  Personal injury attorneys offer free consultations. We would much rather give you the advice before you head down a difficult road with an insurance adjuster. Call us toll free 1.800.685.3302 or locally 314.276.1681

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The Cagle Law Firm serves accident and injury clients throughout St. Louis and the greater St. Louis metropolitan area, including the eastern Missouri and southern Illinois communities. If you or a loved one needs legal assistance with your personal injury case, call The Cagle Law Firm at (314) 276-1681 or use our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

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