JEFFERSON CITY - Nearly 23 percent of Missouri motorists are still not wearing their seat belts, according to a recently released statewide survey. Only 77 percent of Missourians buckle up regularly, seven percent less than the national average of 84 percent. Usage is up just one percentage point from last year, when the survey showed 76 percent of Missourians wearing seat belts.
"Missouri is seven points lower than the national seat belt use average," says Leanna Depue, chair of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety's executive committee. "Unfortunately, our number has only gone up one percentage point, which doesn't show any real improvement; and it's not likely to improve significantly without a primary safety belt law. We could save so many lives just by making our seat belt law a primary law."
In 2008, 489 people killed in Missouri traffic crashes weren't wearing a seat belt. Wearing a seat belt is your best defense in a crash because it provides protection from being ejected and keeps motorists from smashing into windshields, dashboards and other passengers.
Southwest Missouri has an even bigger problem with motorists failing to wear seat belts. The 10-county area near Joplin and Springfield has a 66 percent usage rate, 11 percent lower than the state average and 18 percent below the national average. In those 10 counties in 2008, 102 people died in traffic crashes; 62 of them were not wearing a seat belt.
To help get more people to buckle up in this area, the Missouri Department of Transportation is joining with local law enforcement to kick off a pilot project in southwest Missouri today that will run through the end of October. Law enforcement officers will be cracking down on motorists who aren't wearing seat belts, and an advertising campaign will send a strong message about the benefits of wearing a seat belt and the consequences if you don't.
The 10 southwest counties included in this special Click It or Ticket enforcement effort include: Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence, Barry, Greene, Christian, Taney, Stone and Webster. The focus will be primarily on rural roads throughout these counties.
"Every day someone in Missouri dies in a crash because they weren't buckled up," Depue says. "Buckling up is so easy, but provides so much protection. Please buckle up and Arrive Alive."
For more information, visit http://www.savemolives.com/.
Editor's note: Audio soundbites from Leanna Depue can be found at www.modot.org/newsroom.