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More seat belt usage sought by Colorado authorities

State's 84 percent usage is below national average

More seat belt use sought by Colorado authorities

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado ranks 36th among U.S. states in seat belt use, according to the Colorado Department of Health.

The most recent available statistics show that in 2016, for the first time ever, the national average seat belt percentage reached 90 percent, but Colorado's percentage is 84 percent.

Officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation said the trend contributed to a record 630 traffic deaths statewide last year, an increase of 30 percent during the past three years.

Statistics also show that, nationally, seat belt use is lowest among people ages 16 to 24, and is lower among men than women and lower among African-Americans than other races.

"With younger drivers, I think, teenagers are reckless," said Raven Jones, a high school senior.  "Safety isn't really a focus.  I see seat belts not worn most often in the back seat."

Experts say that since seat belts can prevent people from being ejected during a crash, wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of death by 45 percent and the risk of serious injury by 50 percent.

So, with modern vehicles safer than ever, why aren't more people wearing seat belts?

"Safer vehicles is one of the three top excuses," said Admar Susic, head instructor at Master Drive in Colorado Springs.  "The others are a fear of seat belts not working, and that a driver isn't going very far and doesn't need them."

Susic said seat belts don't just protect people in crashes; they also provide protection when drivers brake suddenly or swerve sharply.

"You could get ejected through the windshield," he said.  "Or you could get injured by the airbag deploying while you're unsecured."

It took 35 years, since seat belt statistics started being monitored, for Americans to reach 90 percent usage. 

"Getting that last 10 percent might be an even tougher task," Susic said.  "Even public service announcements with graphic video don't convince everyone.  All we can do is continue to make information available and hope it eventually sinks in."

Susic said much of seat belt use depends on a conscious decision to wear a seat belt, and then making it a habit.

Raven Jones' father, Ted Jones, said personal experience convinced him to be a regular seat belt user.

"My brother was in an accident years ago where he was hit by a drunken driver," Jones said.  "He wasn't wearing a seat belt and he was thrown through the windshield.  He survived but it messed him up pretty good."

Jones is passing that story along to his daughter as she learns how to drive.  Improving the percentage of usage may be in the hands of the younger generation.

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