Alabamians credited for

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 19, 2001

embracing seatbelt laws


Staff Writer

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Jan. 18, 2001 10 PM

It appears more people are buckling up when they get into a vehicle.

Through observational surveys, the Alabama Department of Public Health has found Alabama’s safety belt usage rates in 2000 increased by 22 percent ­ to the highest rate ever recorded in the state.

The estimated safety belt usage was 71 percent, compared to the 1999 rate of 58 percent. Child restraint usage rates increased by 28 percent, rising from 60 percent in 1999 to 77 percent last year.

"We are very pleased that Alabama’s motor vehicle occupants have made this behavior change," said Dr. Donald Williamson, health officer for the state. "This puts Alabama directly in line with the national average for the first time ever."

Williamson attributed the increase to compliance with and enforcement of state laws and said surveyors began seeing the positive effects of the state’s seat belt law last January.

During 1999 the Alabama Legislature enacted legislation which made failure to wear safety belts a primary offense. A primary violation is one in which a driver can be stopped only on the basis of not wearing safety belts.

Law enforcement officers began assessing fines for primary offenses in December 1999.

"Safety belts save lives," Gov. Don Siegelman said. "We have proof of this with safety belt usage increasing to a record level last year."

Besides, Siegelman added, it’s the law.

To get the Alabama statistics, restraint usage was observed for 79,000 drivers and passengers within 15 Alabama counties in the 2000 survey.

Colbert and Madison counties had the highest safety belt usage rates at 78 percent; Houston County had a 76 percent rate and Jefferson had a rate of 75 percent.

Among the counties surveyed, all but Escambia ­ at 51 percent, which was down from 53 percent in 1999 ­ improved from last year’s usage rate.

Safety belt usage rates for other counties surveyed for the year 2000 were as follows: Blount, 63 percent; Etowah, 64 percent; Lawrence, 71 percent; Lee, 70 percent; Marshall, 70 percent; Mobile, 67 percent; Montgomery, 74 percent; Shelby, 73 percent; Tuscaloosa, 72 percent and Walker, 64 percent.

Houston and Colbert counties had the highest rates of child restraint usage ­ 88 percent and 86 percent, respectively.

Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show nearly half of the children who die in traffic accidents are unrestrained, proving that restraints do save lives.

The survey also included motorcycle helmet usage.

Of the 161 people observed on motorcycles, all were wearing helmets. That 100 percent usage rate coincided with those taken down in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

The annual survey of safety belt, child restraint and helmet usage is conducted by the Injury Prevention Division of the Bureau of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease.

In this scientifically drawn and conducted sample, data for all areas of the state from small towns, to county and urban roadways are included.

During the survey, 345 sites were selected and observed for one hour to determine the number of people in the front seat, the number of occupants wearing safety belts, the number of children under the age of 6 in any position of the vehicle and those children who were restrained.

While officials are pleased that 58 percent of motorists are using seat belts, the goal of law enforcement officers is to continually increase that number.