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Researchers checking North Carolina drivers’ seatbelt usage

It goes without saying that as you drive around Raleigh, you must have your eyes open and your seatbelt buckled. Unfortunately, despite North Carolina’s seatbelt law, not every driver and passenger buckles up.

As everyone should know, seatbelts are the most affordable and effective way to prevent serious injuries in motor vehicle accidents.

Researchers with North Carolina State University’s Institute for Transportation Research and Education are determined to find out how many drivers and front-seat passengers are complying with the law and buckling up.

The researchers will be stationed along roads across the state to collect the seatbelt data required by the federal government to qualify for highway safety funds.

A recent news report stated that seatbelt use rose in North Carolina after the first survey was taken in 1998, when 77 percent of drivers and passengers in the state buckled up. By 2016, usage had risen to 91.7 percent.

Last year’s survey found that seatbelt use in the state was headed in the wrong direction, however, dropping to 88.4 percent.

Mark Ezzell, director of the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program said that even “a slight decline” means that “thousands of individuals . . . are simply choosing not to protect themselves and others around them.”

Ezzell said two counties showed sharp decreases in usage: Mecklenburg had a drop of 8 percent and rural Columbus (about a two-hour drive south of Raleigh) was down 10 percent.

He said it isn’t clear why seatbelt usage has dropped in those counties.

A few findings from last year’s survey:

  • Drivers in Piedmont counties buckle up at a higher rate (92.5 percent) than those in the mountains (87.7 percent) and those in eastern counties (85.8 percent)
  • Urban drivers buckle up at a slightly higher rate than rural drivers: 89.7 percent to 86.3 percent
  • Minivan drivers were the most likely to buckle up (94.1 percent), while only 85.8 percent of pick-up drivers do

Ezzell said buckling up is “the acceptable thing to do” in North Carolina, but “there are just a few outliers that still aren’t doing it.”

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