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ND seat belt use up, but still under national average

JAMESTOWN, N.D. -- Seat-belt use in North Dakota has increased since 2012 but is still under the national average, according to the 2016 report by the North Dakota State University Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.

Seat belts were not worn in about 59 percent of fatal crashes in North Dakota in 2016, said Lt. Tom Iverson with the North Dakota Highway Patrol. John M. Steiner / The Sun
Seat belts were not worn in about 59 percent of fatal crashes in North Dakota in 2016, said Lt. Tom Iverson with the North Dakota Highway Patrol. John M. Steiner / The Sun

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Seat-belt use in North Dakota has increased since 2012 but is still under the national average, according to the 2016 report by the North Dakota State University Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute.

The report, Seatbelt Use in North Dakota, estimates 80.4 percent of drivers and 87.3 percent of front-seat passengers in North Dakota wear seat belts, with a total of 82.8 percent seat-belt use. The national average for seat-belt use in 2015 was 88.5 percent.

Lt. Tom Iverson with the North Dakota Highway Patrol said rural areas often see lower seat-belt use, and since much of North Dakota is rural, it causes the state to lag behind the national average. Iverson said the patrol urges people to wear seat belts.

"It's a law for a reason, to keep us safe," Iverson said. "Unfortunately, some people choose not to wear them. Through enforcement and education, we encourage them to wear their seat belts."

Seat belts were not worn in 51 of the 110 traffic fatalities in 2016, according to the NDDOT. This is down from 65 of the 124 traffic fatalities in 2015 where seat belts were not worn. Iverson said seat belts were not worn in about 59 percent of fatal crashes in North Dakota in 2016.

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Iverson said the patrol works with the North Dakota Department of Transportation for "Click it or Ticket" campaigns when law enforcement agencies increase traffic safety patrols. The patrol also participates in other educational efforts and outreach that include seat-belt use, he said.

"Any time we do routine safety talks, it's a topic we'll always touch on," Iverson said. "In this day and age, there's no excuse for not wearing a seat belt."

Lt. Justin Blinsky with the Jamestown Police Department said seat-belt usage significantly increases during the department's enforcement campaigns. Seat-belt use also increases during the winter when people are at higher risk for accidents because of road conditions, Blinsky said.

Seat-belt use in Stutsman County is above the state average at 87.8 percent for 2014 to 2016, up from the 2013 to 2015 average of 85.7 percent, according to the report. Stutsman County had the third-highest rate for seat-belt use out of the 16 counties surveyed, behind Barnes and Billings counties.

The report shows variations in seat-belt use by vehicle type. Drivers and passengers in vans had the highest seat-belt use average at 90.4 percent. The average for SUVs was 88.1 percent, average for cars was 84 percent, and the pickup average was 73.7 percent. All averages have increased over the last five years.

The rate for seat-belt use in North Dakota also varies by road type. The report shows seat-belt use is highest on primary roads like interstates, followed by local roads, and lowest on secondary roads such as U.S., state and county highway systems.

The seat-belt law in North Dakota requires all vehicle occupants to be properly buckled up with children under 7 years old in an approved safety restraint. However, the law is only primarily enforced, meaning law enforcement can stop a vehicle for it, for occupants younger than 18.

The state seat-belt law for those 18 and older has secondary enforcement, which means officers can't stop people just for not wearing a seat belt, but it allows officers to ticket unbelted occupants if they are stopped for another reason.The law for adults only applies to the front seats.

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Thirty-four states have primary seat-belt laws for the front seat, 15 have secondary laws, and New Hampshire has neither for adults but a primary law for those under 18, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Many states that have secondary laws have a primary law for drivers and passengers under 18. Twenty-eight states, not including North Dakota, have laws requiring seat-belt use for rear-seat passengers, and in 17 of these states the law is primary.

The NDDOT's North Dakota Local Road Safety Program 2015 report lists safety strategies for the state and region, including pursuing local support for a primary seat-belt law. Iverson said a primary seat-belt law could increase traffic safety.

"Any law that would impact safety we would be in support of," Iverson said.

Ashlee Doan, safety public information specialist for the NDDOT, said the department's mission is to safely move people and goods, and is always looking for ways to improve. As a state agency, the department won't take a position on any possible legislation that would affect the seat-belt law, Doan said, but would put any changes into place.

The Jamestown Police Department always encourages people to wear seat belts because motorists can receive injuries even at low speeds, and it doesn't take a huge impact to cause a fatality, Blinsky said.

"It doesn't matter if you're driving to the grocery store or 200 miles," he said. "Take the extra seconds to put your seat belt on and be safe."

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA HIGHWAY PATROL
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