With higher fines coming in January, TN seat belt use has declined this summer

News release from Governor’s Highway Safety Office:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Governor’s Highway Safety Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol announced today a decrease in seat belt use. The new statewide rate has been finalized at 86.2 percent for the month of June. This percentage represents a decrease from the previous usage rate of 87.7 percent.

The observational seat belt survey is performed by the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) Center for Transportation Research. The survey, which is conducted in accordance with federal requirements and standards, is mandated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“The decrease represents tens of thousands of Tennesseans not wearing a seat belt this year compared to last,” said GHSO Director Kendell Poole. “While the percentage seems small, the number of lives it impacts is huge. The loss of even one life that could have been saved by a belt is a tragedy. The public will begin to see an even greater combined effort of education and enforcement to raise this number back up.”

Earlier this year, Governor Haslam signed a bill that will increase Tennessee’s seat belt fine beginning in January 2016. The fine will increase from $10 to $25 for first offenders and from $25 to $50 for subsequent offenses.

“Since January 1, 2015, THP personnel have issued 58,494 citations for violation of the seat belt law,” said THP Colonel Tracy Trott. “Aggressive seat belt enforcement is always a priority for our department. We know that seat belts save lives, and we are hopeful that the fine increase will help change behavior across the state.”

“The largest decreases we saw came from travelers in vans and passenger cars,” said Director Poole. “However, pickup trucks still continue to be our lowest use group by a vast margin.”

As of August 3, preliminary statistics indicate 519 people have died on Tennessee roadways, a decrease of 35 deaths compared to 554 fatalities at this same time in 2014. To date, 47.9 percent of the state’s fatalities have been unrestrained motorists.

A summary of the June 2015 Tennessee safety belt survey can be found here: http://tntrafficsafety.org/sites/default/files/2015beltuse.pdf.