CHARLESTON, WV – The West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) announced that West Virginia’s statewide seat belt usage rate is 90.2 percent for 2019. The national average is 90 percent. This is the second year in a row that West Virginia’s rate is over 90 percent.
“We want our people to absolutely be as safe as possible while they are traveling on our roads here in West Virginia,” Governor Jim Justice said. “I’m very proud of all the hard work that has gone into putting us above the national average in this truly important category. But we can’t stop – we have to keep working all the time to make our seat belt usage as close to 100 percent as possible. And I’m confident we’ll keep getting better and better.”
Seat belt utilization in West Virginia has increased considerably over the past six years, which affirms that the West Virginia GHSP and its traffic safety partners across the state are providing effective occupant protection programs to citizens. The GHSP’s educational efforts, Click It or Ticket campaigns, and high visibility enforcement have helped to increase West Virginia’s seat belt usage rates.
This year’s mark of 90.2 percent backs up last year’s record-setting seat belt usage rate of 90.53 percent; the highest compliance rate in state history.
“When I began working for the GHSP, West Virginia’s rate was the worst in the country, around 50 percent,” GHSP Director Bob Tipton said. “We have seen significant improvements in several highway safety performance measures since the passage of the primary seat belt law in 2013. We have made great strides when it comes to seat belt use, but I would like to see it continue to increase in the years to come.”
West Virginia’s first statewide seat belt survey, which is required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was completed in 1998 with a usage rate of 56.5 percent. An annual survey has been conducted every year since. West Virginia’s statewide rate has continued to trend upward every year since the implementation of a primary seat belt law in 2013. In addition, the number of fatalities and crashes on West Virginia roadways has trended downward since the primary seat belt law went into effect.
To conduct the scientific study, observations were randomly scheduled for all days of the week during daylight hours between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Observers recorded information on vehicle type, driver gender, and the use of seat belts and mobile devices while driving. Information was also collected on front seat passengers. An independent consulting firm has certified the results, ensuring their accuracy and objectivity.
The consequences of not wearing or improperly wearing a seat belt can be deadly. Buckling up helps keep drivers and passengers secure inside the vehicle, whereas not buckling up can result in drivers or passengers being ejected from the vehicle in a crash, which is almost always deadly. Improperly wearing a seat belt, such as putting the shoulder strap behind you, makes the seat belt less effective.
Research has shown that lap and shoulder combination seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent when used, and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent (NHTSA, 2011). Drivers and passengers of light trucks reduce their risk of fatal injury by sixty percent (Kahane, 2015).
“West Virginians are getting the message loud and clear: seat belts save lives,” Tipton said. “The number of fatalities on West Virginia roadways has decreased from 432 in 2007 to 294 in 2018. The number of drivers and passengers who are ejected from a vehicle during a crash has decreased as well.”
For more information about seat belts, please visit www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts. For more information about the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program, visit www.dmv.wv.gov/ghsp or call 304-926-2509.