Maryland ranks 9th in seat belt use, CDC says
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Maryland ranks 9th in the nation in the percentage of residents who report that they always wear a seat when driving or riding in a car.
Maryland's seat belt use of 89.6 percent lags just over 4 percentage points behind that of Oregon, which ranked first among the states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico with 93.7 percent, according to the CDC survey.
Like all of the top 14 in the ranking, Maryland has a primary-enforcement seat belt law, which allows officers to stop a motorist on a violation without observing another offense. Roughly half the states have such laws, while most of the others have secondary laws, allowing enforcement only when a seat belt is not work while another offense is being committed. New Hampshire has no seat belt law of either kind.
The report comes as some highway safety advocates are considering a push in this year's legislative session to toughen the penalties for violating Maryland's seat belt law, which now provides for a $25 fine and no points.
"We believe there seems to be that hard core," said Robert McKinney, president of the Maryland Highway Safety Foundation. He called the percentage of Marylanders who still drive without belts "unacceptable." The foundation's board will decide the group's legislative priorities next week.
The survey found that compliance was significantly higher in the primary enforcement states -- 88.2 percent -- than in New Hampshire and the states with secondary laws, where 79.2 percent reported they always wore seat belts. The lowest compliance rates were found in the Dakotas, where they dipped below 60 percent.
The survey results differed from others that use different methodologies. For instance, a survey of 2009 data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found generally higher compliance rates around the country, including a 94 percent rate in Maryland.
The CDC researchers said that if primary laws were in effect in all states, an additional 7.3 million Americans would be regularly buckling up.
According to the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, seat belts reduce the risk of death in vehicle crashes by 45 percent and serious injuries by 50 percent.
The report says seat belt use has increased nationally between 2002 and 2008 from 80.5 percent to 85 percent.
According to the survey, compliance is significantly higher among women and older drivers than men and younger people. It found that Hispanics are more likely to use seat belts than either blacks or whites, and that seat belt use among rural drivers is significantly lower than among those in urban and suburban areas.