According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts are the single most effective traffic safety device for preventing death and injury. They say that wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of crash injuries by 50 percent. 63% of people killed in car accidents were unbelted. The conclusion is that seat belts save lives.
State officials in North Carolina want a 90% or higher use of seat belts among drivers and passengers and it seems Mecklenburg county fell just below that mark. Mecklenburg County had an 89.6 percent usage last year and is now 1 of 8 N.C. counties that have been asked by the state to step-up seat belt use enforcement.
The Mecklenburg county campaign began last week and will run through April 29th. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Sgt. David Sloan said the operations will be conducted at all hours of the day and night. He said they will even utilize plain-clothes police officers who will notify other officers when they spot a motorist not wearing a seat belt.
This campaign may seem a little excessive since Mecklenburg county was only .4 percent below the state standard, but seat belt use is very important for all drivers and passengers. The general statute in N.C. requires that all drivers and passengers age 16 and older in the front seats and rear seats must be wearing a seat belt. However, the penalties for this offense are fairly minuscule. If caught without a seat belt in the front seat a person will receive a $25.50 fine plus $135.50 in court costs. A passenger caught without a seat belt in the back seat gets only a $10 fine and no court fees. Considering how important seat belt use is, these fines are not much of a deterrent.
Unfortunately, not all people wear seat belts. Teenagers and young adults are the groups most likely to go unbelted and males are more likely than females to forgo a seat belt. Data for these groups shows that mere education about seat belt safety isn’t enough to encourage seat belt use. This is the reasoning behind many seat belt campaigns. If education and awareness aren’t saving lives, maybe fear will.
So even though Mecklenburg county is only .4% below the state standard, this new campaign could scare a few more people into wearing a seat belt and could possibly save some lives as well.