State tops nation for use of seat belts

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More motorists in the state are buckling up — giving Washington the highest seat belt use rate in the nation.

Washington State Patrol officials said a federal report released Friday put the state’s seat belt use rate at 97.5 percent in 2011, making it the highest in the nation and the seventh year in a row with a rate over 95 percent.

In 2010, the state’s rate was 97.6 percent and tied with Hawaii for the top spot. The national average for seat belt use in 2011 was 84 percent.

“News like this makes me proud to be living in Washington,” Darrin Grondel, director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission said in a news release Friday. “Safe roadways are a team effort that includes everybody using their seat belts because they know that seat belts save lives.”

Across the state patrol’s district that runs from Yakima to Walla Walla, 3,852 drivers have been stopped for not buckling up — an increase of 3 percent compared with the same time through August 2011 — and 3,556 citations were issued.

A seat belt violation is a primary offense in Washington, which means motorists can be pulled over if they’re caught not wearing a seat belt.

The push for seat belt enforcement is about saving lives, officials said.

Troopers “see first-hand the results of not wearing a seat belts and are extremely motivated to reduce these unnecessary injuries and deaths,” said Washington State Patrol Chief John Batiste.

The risk of dying in a crash is reduced by 61 percent if the person in the vehicle is wearing lap-and-shoulder restraints, according to an estimate by the Haborview Injury Prevention and Research Center.

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