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Local drivers continue to buckle up for safety

Fifth year in a row Washington’s seat belt usage rate has improved.

More and more Washingtonians are clicking it to avoid tickets.

2008 marks the fifth year in a row Washington’s seat belt usage rate has improved, inching up from 96.4 percent in 2007 to 96.5 percent in ’08.

“I know I’ve seen more people wearing seat belts,” said Carolyn Pence, Kitsap County Traffic Safety Task Force coordinator.

Pence said Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies issued far fewer seat belt citations in 2008 than 2007. Roughly 560 tickets were issued in 2007, while only 323 tickets were issued last year.

“That’s a big difference,” Pence said.

The 2008 Washington survey comprised 98,572 drivers and passengers and was done statewide on a variety of roads following guidelines set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), according to a news release.

“Washington has come a long way,” NHTSA’s Region 10 Administrator John Moffat stated in a news release. “In 1986, only 36 percent of vehicle occupants were using seat belts. In 2002 when Washington’s primary seat belt law went into effect, the rate was at 83 percent. Since then, year after year improvement has made Washington one of the top three states in the nation.”

In 2007, Washington law enforcement agencies began conducting nighttime seat belt patrols. Pence said that effort helped boost the seat belt use statistics.

“I think it is the increase in education and enforcement that played a role,” she said.

Pence said local law enforcement personnel give presentations to adults and children on various safe driving tips, including the importance of wearing seat belts.

“If we talk about speeding, we talk about seat belts. If we talk about DUI, we talk about seat belts,” she said. “We promote seat belt use.”

Pence said a seat belt citation costs $124, but even that fine doesn’t prevent some people from driving a vehicle unbuckled.

“It’s difficult to change some people’s ways of thinking,” she said.

Not only do tickets cost $124, but a driver who has children under the age of 16 not wearing seat belts inside his or her vehicle will be fined for every child not wearing a seat belt, so seat belt tickets can really add up, Pence said.

Pence said not wearing a seat belt correctly can be just as dangerous as not wearing one. People also can be cited for wearing a seat beat the wrong way.

She said with proper education and enforcement, she believes Washingtonians will continue to buckle up in 2009.

“People realize the importance of it and I think the numbers will continue to grow,” she said. “It’s going to help save your life in a crash.”

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