Illinois drivers and their front-seat passengers are more likely than ever to fasten their seat belts when they hit the road, the state Department of Transportation says. A statewide survey released last week shows that seat-belt usage has increased to 91.7 percent, a record level. This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the survey findings.
Illinois drivers and their front-seat passengers are more likely than ever to fasten their seat belts when they hit the road, the state Department of Transportation says.
A statewide survey released last week shows that seat-belt usage has increased to 91.7 percent, a record level. That's more than 15 percentage points better than in 2003, when seat-belt usage was 76.2 percent.
Fatal crashes also are on the decline this year, dropping by about 10 percent during the first half of 2009, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation's Division of Traffic Safety, which conducted the survey.
This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a closer look at the survey findings.
Q: Why are motorists buckling up more often?
A: Mike Stout, who heads the Division of Traffic Safety, cites several reasons, including a ramped-up public education effort and tougher enforcement.
Though Illinois has had a mandatory seat belt law on the books since 1985, for most of those years police could issue tickets for seat belt violations only if a motorist had been pulled over for a different offense.
But since 2003, police have been allowed to stop motorists solely for not wearing a seat belt.
"That has really helped," Stout said.
During the May 2009 "Click It or Ticket" campaign, nearly 200 law enforcement agencies and the Illinois State Police issued more than 75,000 citations – three-fourths of them for seat belt or child safety seat violations.
Stout said another factor is that motorists "finally get it."
"They know that their best chances of surviving a crash is if they have their belt on," he said. "Common sense has kicked in now."
Q: Who's not wearing a seat belt?
A: Stout said that in general, teen motorists and men ages 18-34 are more reluctant than others when it comes to buckling up.
Seat belt usage also drops off at night, Stout said.
"We don't know if that's because people think they can't be seen, or people are out drinking (and) just don't think about it," he said.
Officials are continuing to work to boost compliance with seat belt laws through educational campaigns and stepped-up enforcement efforts, funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Stout said.
Q: Does everybody agree on the need for mandatory seat belt laws?
Drivers "should have the right to determine what they do for their own well-being," said Jim Baxter, president of the National Motorists Association. "Overwhelmingly, a seat belt protects the person who is wearing it, not anybody else."
Even so, the NMA encourages motorists to use seat belts because they reduce injuries in most circumstances. Baxter said he wears a seat belt more often than not.
He doesn't think there are any serious efforts to get rid of Illinois' mandatory seat belt law.
The NMA is a grass-roots group consisting of about 6,000 members in the United States and Canada. Its funding comes from members' dues and donations, as well as advertising on its Web site, Baxter said.
Q: Why are there fewer fatal crashes?
A: Transportation officials give some of the credit to the heightened use of seat belts. Preliminary figures show a 10.3 percent decline in the overall number of fatalities on Illinois roads – 434 in the first half of 2009, compared with 484 in the first half of 2008.
Baxter, though, believes that fewer people are losing their lives on the roads because high gasoline prices and the economic recession have reduced motorists' discretionary driving. In other words, people aren't driving as much.
Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.