River Region helps lead state in seat belt use

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 28, 2005

BATON ROUGE- Motorists in the six-parish area around Houma buckled up at the highest rates in Louisiana, according to a survey conducted this year for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. The Houma region-one of eight state regions defined in the survey-includes the parishes of Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. John the Baptist, St. James and Assumption.

The study found that 81.3 percent of Houma region motorists wore their seat belts and had children passengers protected in proper child seats as required by state law. The 2005 Houma region seat belt usage rate represents a slight increase over the previous year. The Houma region rate topped the statewide average usage rate of 77.7 and came very close to the national usage rate of 82 percent.

The highest rate of seat belt use in the Houma area by vehicle type was 83.6 percent for automobile occupants, followed by 81.7 percent for SUV occupants, 80.4 percent for occupants of vans and 74.6 percent for pickup truck occupants.

&#8220Seat belt usage in the Houma region has been above the state average for several years and we attribute that to the cooperation of citizens and the excellent job being done by State Police and local law enforcement agencies in that area,” said Col. James E. Champagne, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. &#8220State Police and local enforcement agencies have been very proactive in emphasizing seat belt use through public education and enforcement programs.”

Increasing seat belt use is a priority for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration because their use is so effective in saving lives and reducing the number and severity of injuries. The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission estimates that statewide eight lives are saved and 400 fewer injuries occur for every one percentage point increase in seat belt use.

The LHSC has been emphasizing seat belt safety through its &#8220Buckle Up: No Excuses” campaign. Under the campaign, State Police and local law enforcement agencies conduct special overtime patrols dedicated to seat belt enforcement during certain periods. The overtime patrols are paid for by grants provided through the LHSC. The stepped-up enforcement efforts are backed up by public outreach that includes television advertisements, news conferences, news releases and other publicity.

&#8220While we’re making significant progress, Louisiana motorists are still buckling up at rates below the national average of 82 percent,” Champagne said. &#8220By closing the gap between our rate and the national rate we could save an estimated 32 lives per year.”

The LHSC’s 2005 seat belt usage survey was conducted by observers at 418 locations across the state. A total of 95,354 drivers and front-seat passengers were observed at the 418 locations. Observations were made on drivers and front-seat passengers of privately owned vehicles to whom the state’s seat belt law applied. Louisiana law requires that front-seat occupants wear seat belts, and that children under the age of 13 wear a seat belt and/or be restrained by an appropriate child safety seat regardless of seating position.