BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana motorists are buckling up at record high rates in 2014, but safety officials point out that more work needs to be done to convince male, some minority and pickup truck drivers and passengers to always wear their seat belts.
The state's annual survey of seat-belt use estimated that 84.1 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers were buckled up in 2014, up 1.6 percentage points from last year's rate of 82.5 percent. Despite a series of back-to-back annual increases, males, African-Americans and pickup truck occupants lagged behind in buckling up—in some cases considerably below state averages for all drivers and front-seat occupants.
"The 2014 survey verifies that we are on the right track in our work to save lives by increasing seat-belt use," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "On the other hand, the survey pinpoints specific areas where there remains room for substantial improvements."
LeBlanc attributes much of the recent years' improvements in seat-belt use to Click It or Ticket, a nationwide enforcement and public information campaign, which officials introduced in Louisiana in 2003.
"Our annual Click It or Ticket campaigns have played a major role in raising awareness of the importance of always buckling up," LeBlanc said. "We believe that this campaign, coordinated nationwide by NHTSA, has saved countless lives by convincing motorists across the nation to always fasten their seat belts."
Preliminary data indicates that in 2013, 58 percent of people killed in Louisiana crashes were not wearing seat belts, a modest increase from 55 percent in 2012.
Louisiana has what is called a "primary enforcement" law, meaning that officers can stop and ticket people they observe violating the seat belt law.
Preusser Research Group, Inc., with the assistance of Dr. Helmut Schneider of LSU, conducted the observational seat belt survey for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. The surveyors observed 59,644 drivers and front-seat passengers at 336 locations in eight regions of the state. A total of 488 rear-seat occupants were observed in the survey.
Front-seat seat belt use by region in the 2014 survey was as follows:
- Lake Charles: 89.9 percent
- Shreveport: 87.9 percent
- Houma: 87.7 percent
- Lafayette: 85 percent
- Baton Rouge: 84.4 percent
- New Orleans: 81 percent
- Monroe: 74.8 percent
- Alexandria: 70.9 percent
The survey also found that 100 percent of motorcycle riders observed were wearing safety helmets. Louisiana law requires motorcycle riders to wear approved helmets.
The complete survey report can be viewed at the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission's website http://lahighwaysafety.org/occupant.html.