(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – Ohio’s annual observational seat belt survey shows that seat belt usage has dropped in Ohio to its lowest level in nearly two decades.
According to the study conducted by the Department of Public Safety’s Ohio Traffic Safety Office (OTSO), the statewide seat belt compliance rate dropped from 84.1% in 2021 to 80.8% in 2022 – the lowest compliance rate since 2005.
“We want seat belt use to be an automatic habit for drivers and passengers alike,” said Emily Davidson, OTSO executive director. “Unrestrained deaths are completely preventable. Buckling up is the simplest thing you can do to limit injury or save your life during a crash.”
To encourage Ohio drivers to buckle up, local law enforcement agencies throughout the state will participate in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) national Click It or Ticket high-visibility enforcement effort. The seat belt campaign, which coincides with the Memorial Day holiday, runs from May 22 to June 4, 2023. The enforcement effort encourages the over 900 law enforcement agencies in Ohio to conduct increased seat belt enforcement to remind drivers and passengers about the importance of wearing seatbelts.
In 2022, there were 527 people in Ohio killed in traffic crashes where a seat belt was available, but not in use. This marked the third consecutive year that Ohio’s unbelted fatality rate was above 60%.
“Properly wearing a safety belt saves lives and reduces the risk of injuries,” said Colonel Charles A. Jones, Superintendent of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “When a safety belt is properly worn, the potential for crash-related injuries and death decreases dramatically.”
Ohio remains below the national seat belt use rate of 91.6%. The state’s 2022 seat belt survey also revealed that:
- Cuyahoga County had the lowest overall compliance at 59.0%.
- Guernsey County had the highest overall compliance at 84.9%.
- Local roads had by far the lowest rate of compliance in the state.
- Trucks had the lowest compliance rates of any vehicle type: 76.3% for heavy trucks and 77.7% for light trucks.
“No matter the type of vehicle you’re driving in or the type of road you’re driving on, the best way to protect yourself in case of a crash is to wear your seat belt,” said Davidson. “Unfortunately, so many Ohio families are suffering because their loved ones did not follow this simple step. Last year, 527 Ohioans died because they did not buckle their seat belts – that’s more than one person per day.”
Every state is required by NHTSA to conduct a statistically valid survey of seat belt use each year. The study is an important tool to provide more targeted public information campaigns and law enforcement initiatives to increase seat belt use and help save lives throughout Ohio.
According to NHTSA, in 2021, there were 11,813 unbuckled passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes in the United States. In that same year, 57% of passenger vehicle occupants killed at night (6 p.m.–5:59 a.m.) were not wearing their seat belts. That’s why one focus of the Click It or Ticket campaign is nighttime enforcement. Participating law enforcement agencies will be taking a no-excuses approach to seat belt law enforcement, writing citations day and night.
In Ohio, a seat belt violation is considered a secondary offense, meaning law enforcement can only pull over an unbelted driver if they commit a separate primary traffic violation – such as speeding or running a red light. A seat belt citation results in a $30 fine for a driver and a $20 fine for a passenger. Neighboring states of Indiana and Michigan, which both have primary seat belt offense laws, had seat belt compliance rates in 2021 of 92.9% and 92.6% respectively.
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The Ohio Traffic Safety Office (OTSO), a division of the Ohio Department of Public Safety, focuses on a mission to save lives and reduce injuries on Ohio’s roads by using creative leadership, innovative education, and comprehensive enforcement programs. OTSO strives to work in partnership with local, state, and federal entities to advance equity in highway safety programs, ensuring they benefit all road users in Ohio. Last year, OTSO awarded over $22 million in federal funds to 140 Ohio agencies for statewide programming to improve traffic safety and reduce traffic-related fatalities.