This guest post is from Francis Hajek, a partner at Wilson & Hajek and author of the firm’s blog.

The National Highway Safety Traffic Safety Administration recently released automobile safety statistics regarding safety belt use across the country.  Personal Injury lawyers like my colleagues and I at Wilson & Hajek follow studies regarding car and truck safety issues in order to stay up to date on any issue that might assist us in providing representation for personal injury victims. Although the failure to wear a seat belt is not admissible in evidence in many states, including Virginia, awareness of the issue can affect driver behavior.

In 2011, the NHTSA reports that national safety belt usage was constant at 84%.  In 2010, the corresponding statistic was 85%.  However, safety belt use dropped by a statistically significant 2% for western states. Interestingly, although seat belt use dropped in the western states, they historically have the highest use of seat belts. In 2011, seat belt use was 93% in western states versus only 80% for southern states.

One factor in safety belt usage that plays a huge role is whether a particular state is a primary enforcer.  What this means is that in those states where failure to wear a safety belt is a primary offense, one where you can be pulled over for failure to wear a safety belt, there is a higher rate of compliance and safety belt usage. 32 states have seat belt laws where it is a primary offense, including California, Texas and New York. As you might expect, seat belt use is around 11 to 12 percent higher in primary use states.

The implications of a failure to wear a seat belt are well known by injury attorneys. Often, our most severely injured clients are the ones who were not wearing a safety belt in a car accident. Fatality rates for car accidents and wrecks of all types are much higher for the unsecured driver or passenger. Every personal injury lawyer has had a case where the secured vehicle occupant survived the car accident and the unsecured person did not make it. Sadly, such accident tragedies are entirely avoidable.

Personal injury trial lawyers across the country work with communities to educate drivers about dangers such as a failure to use seat belts on a regular basis. We point out to our audiences the statistics concerning truck and automobile accidents where occupants are surviving the accident, simply because seat belts are being used.   It is our hope that every state will eventually have a law that makes it a primary offense if a car driver or passenger is not wearing a seat belt.  Even more, we hope that everyone will voluntarily wear their seat belt, knowing that it is a smart decision that may avoid a needless tragedy in the event of a car accident.

Photo Credit: Benjamin Goodger