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Record-High Number of Americans Buckle Up

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CARS.COM — The rate of seat-belt use in the U.S. has risen to a record 90.1 percent, according to the latest study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

That’s a statistically significant increase from the 88.5 percent use by drivers and front passengers tallied in 2015 in NHTSA’s annual National Occupant Protection Use Survey, which observes actual seat-belt use at randomly selected roadway sites. And it’s way up from the 70.7 percent in 2000.

Related: How to Safely Wear Your Seat Belt When Pregnant

The release of the 2016 results is a timely reminder to buckle up on the road during this Thanksgiving holiday period: More than half — 53 percent — of the 447 people who died in highway crashes in 2015 from Wednesday evening, Nov. 25, through Monday morning, Nov. 30, weren’t wearing their seat belt, NHTSA reported.

“Vehicles have many more safety features today than ever before, but there is nothing more important than the simple seat belt,” said NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind, in a statement.

NHTSA calculates that proper use of a three-point seat belt cuts the risk of being killed in a crash by 45 percent for drivers and front passengers, and cuts their risk of moderate to critical injury by half.

The 2016 survey found that, by region, people are most likely to buckle up in the West, at 93.4 percent, and least likely in the Midwest, at 85.5 percent.

Other highlights:

  • People in vans and SUVs buckle up at a higher rate (92.3 percent) than people in cars (91.1 percent) and far more than folks in pickup trucks (83.2 percent).
  • Overall belt use in rural areas jumped to 89.5 percent in 2016 from 86.8 percent a year earlier.
  • People buckle up more on fast roads and in heavy traffic.
  • Seat-belt use is higher in the 34 states and District of Columbia in which you can be pulled over simply because occupants aren’t belted, even if you have committed no other offense.
Photo of Fred Meier
Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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