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Utahns 'clicking it'

2005 seat-belt survey shows 86.9% buckle up

More and more Utahns are deciding to click it rather then get tickets, according to a study by the Utah Highway Safety Office.

A new UHS survey reports that approximately 86.9 percent of motor vehicle drivers and front-seat passengers in six Utah counties wear their safety belts. That is a 1.2 percent increase from the 2004 usage rate.

"We've increased for seven years," said Kristy Rigby, Utah Highway Safety program manager. "This is a 1.2 percent increase, which is quite a lot when you have such a high rate like we do."

Rigby said that this is the first year Utah adopted the national slogan of "Click It or Ticket," but she said she thinks it has helped.

"Every May during our safety belt mobilization, we have gotten stronger and stronger," Rigby said. "This tells me we are getting better."

During June, Utah Highway Patrol officers surveyed 63,768 drivers in Cache, Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Washington and Weber counties at 162 highway, freeway or local roadway sites.

"Highway patrol officers would stand at the site and observe adult driver and front seat passenger safety belt use," Rigby said. "It was purely observational."

Officers found that five of the six counties increased their usage rates from 2004 while Salt Lake County safety belt usage was down 4.6 percentage points, according to the study. Weber County had the lowest rate of seat belt use at 85.2 percent.

Rigby said officers found that females and people traveling on highways or freeways buckle up more often. Females used seat belts 90.4 percent of the time, whereas males buckled up 85 percent of the time, according to UHS.

"Males tend to be higher risk-takers in general," Rigby said. "That's just a general statement. It's the same nationwide."

Safety belt usage was 89.5 percent on highways or freeways and 85.4 percent on local roadways, according to UHS.

"That's expected," Rigby said. "You always buckle up more on highways or faster roadways."

The UHS survey was approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so the data can be compared from state to state. Rigby said states may receive federal funding if they have an increase in safety belt use from one year to the next.

"I think the main reason we do the survey is to compare where Utah stands in the nation, and also with regards to our programs to see if we are making a difference in our educational efforts," Rigby said. "The money is an incentive, but it has never been the primary reason we have conducted the survey."

The NHTSA requires each state to survey 85 percent of its population. That is why UHS chose those six counties, Rigby said.

"I think it's very useful for those six counties to see what their trend is," Rigby said.

In 1986, Utah enacted its first safety belt use law, which required all front-seat passengers and the driver to use safety belts. Rigby said the law has been through many revisions.

Utah's current safety belt law comes with a $45 violation fine, which, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety Web site, can be reduced to $15 upon completion of a traffic safety class.

Rigby said the safety belt law is a primary law through the age of 18, meaning that people under 19 can be pulled over solely for not wearing a seat belt. The law is a secondary law for people 19 years or older, so people may be cited for a seat belt violation only if they are stopped for some other violation. The law also requires children up to 4 years old to be restrained in an approved car safety seat.

"A higher percentage of people's lives are saved when they wear seat belts," said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Doug McCleve. "There's no question."

Rigby said the survey information is helpful for health departments, hospitals and law enforcement agencies to determine where seat belt usage is high and where there is room for improvement. As a result, officials can determine where education campaigns are making a difference.

McCleve said that one of UHP's main goals is seat belt enforcement and education.

"Part of the responsibility that everybody has while in a car is to wear a seat belt," McCleve said. "That's what the law says. I think people are a little more safety conscious because of the education and the enforcement."


E-mail: nclemens@desnews.com