Advocates Applauds DOT Secretary's Call to Enact National Primary Seat Belt Laws

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Jen Maly 202.408.1711 x 20
December 10, 2003 jmaly@saferoads.org

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety Applauds DOT Secretary's
Call to Enact National Primary Seat Belt Laws

National Highway Safety Act of 2003 (S.1993) Will Accelerate Action

Washington, D.C. (December 10, 2003) - The day after U.S. Senators John W. Warner (R-VA) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) introduced the National Highway Safety Act of 2003 (S.1993), Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) hails U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) Secretary Norman Mineta's call to state legislators to pass primary seat belt laws in every state. Today, at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Fall Forum, Secretary Mineta issued his strongest call to date urging states to enact these laws.

"While we commend the Secretary's statement today, simply urging state legislative action will not get the job done. We need enactment of S.1993, the National Highway Safety Act of 2003, which would accelerate the adoption of primary laws in each state," said Judith Lee Stone, president of Advocates. "The pace at which states are enacting these laws is too slow, too few states are taking action and too many lives are at stake. We know the most effective strategy is federal legislation that requires state action. This approach resulted in states passing laws establishing the 21-year-old drinking age, zero tolerance for underage drinking and driving and the near-uniform enactment of .08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC) laws - it works."

Currently, only 20 states and the District of Columbia have a primary enforcement seat belt law. Twenty-nine (29) states have secondary laws regarding seat belt use and New Hampshire has no seat belt law. A recently released National Safety Council study estimates that if the 30 states without a primary seat belt law were to enact one, 1,400 lives could be saved next year alone. There is no other major highway safety law - other than seat belt use - that is hampered by a secondary enforcement provision.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that more than half of motor vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2002 were unbelted. Also, the agency has found that average seat belt use rates in states with a primary law is 10-15 percentage points higher than in states without such a provision. If all passengers were to use seat belts, an estimated additional 9,200 fatalities and 143,000 serious injuries could be prevented each year. The U.S. seat belt use rate is 79 percent, well below that of other industrialized nations.

The National Highway Safety Act of 2003 (S.1993) gives states 3 years to enact a primary seat belt law or achieve a seat belt use rate of at least 90 percent. States that do not meet either goal will have a small percentage of their Highway Trust Fund monies withheld.

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Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer. Founded in 1989, Advocates encourages the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that save lives and reduce injuries.

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