Seat-belt use saves lives in Washington

Washington motorists are second in the nation in wearing seat belts. The 96.4 percent seat-belt rate is good, but Washington should be doing even better.

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Seat belts save lives -- about 85 a year in Washington state.

That's significant.

Washington state has the second highest rate of seat-belt usage in the nation. It's estimated that 96.4 percent of Washingtonians wear seat belts, according to the Washington Safety Traffic Commission.

"Increases in seat-belt use have contributed strongly to drops in traffic deaths in Washington," said Lowell Porter, director of the commission. "There was a 31 percent drop in vehicle occupant deaths from 1986 to 2008 while vehicle miles traveled increased 34 percent over this same time period."

Still, Washington's seat-belt use dropped slightly the previous year and it is not as good as Michigan, where 97.2 percent of people are buckling up.

Washington drivers could -- and should -- do better. Every person in a vehicle should be wearing a seat belt.

Although it is clear to nearly everyone that wearing a seat belt prevents tragedies, it wasn't until this state made not wearing a seat belt a primary offense about a decade ago that the seat-belt rate went over 90 percent. Prior to that it was a secondary offense, meaning that a law-enforcement officer could issue a ticket only if a driver was pulled over for another infraction such as speeding.

It was wise for Washington to crack down on seat-belt use.

Society has a huge stake in making sure people wear seat belts. Not only do seat belts save lives, but they reduce injuries.

The more people who wear seat belts the fewer serious injuries will occur, which helps keep down health-care and insurance costs. Taxpayers already supplement much of those costs and will likely pick up a bigger chunk of the tab in the future.

The Seattle Times cited studies that show medical costs from crashes amount to more than $276 million each year in Washington.

An unbelted vehicle occupant's medical costs average $11,000 more per collision than those of a belted vehicle occupant's, according to a report by the Traffic Safety Commission.

Nationally, seat-belt use is estimated to save $50 billion a year from costs associated with injuries and deaths.

Beyond that, the emotional toll from fatal traffic accidents is astronomical. Those left behind suffer.

And, again, taxpayers end up paying to deal with many of the problems created when families are ripped apart because of traffic deaths.

We all have a stake in whether seat belts are worn. Buckle up!

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