More Louisiana motorists are buckling up in 2015, with a major increase in rear seats

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

BATON ROUGE – Seat belt use in Louisiana continues to climb, with a record 85.9 percent of drivers and front-seat passengers using seat belts this year, an increase of 1.8 percent over 2014, according to a statewide annual observational survey.

     The 2015 Louisiana Seat Belt and Motorcycle Helmet Observation Survey found seat belt use rising above 80 percent in every region of the state for the first time, with significant increases in the Alexandria and Monroe areas. The survey also showed a record 68.9 percent of passengers in rear seats using seat belts – a 14 percent increase over the 2014 rate.

     While seat belt use increased overall, males and minorities still lag behind, as do pickup truck occupants.

Access localized and statewide rates in the 2015 Louisiana Seat Belt and Motorcycle Helmet Observation Survey.

    This year's observational survey also found almost 100 percent (99.7%) of motorcyclists using protective helmets. Motorcycle helmet use has topped 99 percent since the Louisiana Legislature made motorcycle helmets mandatory in 2004.

     "We're extremely encouraged by the increase in seat belt use, particularly among rear seat passengers and those regions where seat belt compliance has lagged behind the rest of the state. This is going to save lives. But we can do better. There are still some Louisianians that are not using seat belts, and it's costing lives," Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Executive Director John LeBlanc said.

     An estimated 58 percent of drivers killed on Louisiana roadways in 2013 were not wearing safety belts, he explained.  

     Louisiana has seen steady improvement in seat belt use since the Louisiana Legislature passed a mandatory seat belt law in the late 1990s, which allows law enforcement officers to stop and ticket people they observe violating the law. In 2009, the Legislature expanded the law to include rear-seat passengers.

     LeBlanc attributes the continued rise in seat belt use, in large part, to Louisiana's participation in the national "Click it or Ticket" and "Buckle up in Your Truck" and night time public information and enforcement campaigns. The efforts, which are coordinated by the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, involve Louisiana State Police, law enforcement officers, regional traffic safety coalitions and safety partners throughout the state.

     Preusser Research Group, Inc., with the assistance of Dr. Helmut Schneider of LSU, conducted the observational seat belt and motorcycle helmet survey for the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. The surveyors observed 57,128 front-seat occupants at 336 locations in eight regions of the state. A total of 684 rear-seat occupants were observed in the survey. The work was completed in late May and the first half of June 2015.

     Front-seat restraint use by region in the 2015 survey was as follows: Houma (91.2%), Shreveport (89.4%), Alexandria (87.3%), Lake Charles (85.6%), Monroe (84.2%), Baton Rouge (83%), Lafayette: 82.5%) and New Orleans (82.4).

     The national seat belt use rate was 87 percent in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available.

According to the 2015 observational survey:

While seat belt use among male drivers increased by a statistically significant 2.9 percentage points from 2014, males still lagged behind females (82.5% vs. 90.5%).

     Front seat occupant belt use rates among African Americans measured lower than other races or ethnicities (78.9% vs. 88.9% for Whites, 81.0 for Hispanics and 97.3% for all other ethnic categories).

     For the first time, all regions, of Louisiana showed a seat belt use rate above 80 percent. Both Alexandria and Monroe regions have rates noticeably higher than in 2014. Compared to 2014, the Alexandria region had an increase of 16.5 percentage points and the Monroe region had an increase of 9.5 percentage points.

     Rear seat passengers used seat belts at a rate of 68.9 percent in 2015. The region with the highest rate of rear-seat use was Monroe with 88 percent, followed by Alexandria (76.6%), Lake Charles (75%), Shreveport (73.2%), Lafayette (68.6%), Baton Rouge (66.1%), New Orleans (61.5%) and Houma (58.3%).

Seat belt use among vehicle front-seat occupants again showed pickup truck occupants to have the lowest rate of compliance, with 80.3 percent, compared with occupants of SUVs at 89.7 percent, cars at 87.1 percent and vans at 86.3 percent.