Nine out of 10 Wisconsin drivers use a seat belt now, up from roughly three out of four in 2009, when the state allowed police to pull over drivers for not buckling up, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
While state officials said passing the 90% threshold is a milestone for improved highway safety, achieving compliance with the law among the remaining 10% will be a challenge. Seat belt use has hovered around 89% for the last two years.
“We’ve reached an important benchmark, but at the same time realize there is more work to do,” Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson said in a statement Wednesday.
David Pabst, director of the DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Safety, said the final 10% is largely made up of 18- to 35-year-old males and primarily pickup truck drivers.
“Their attitude is, ‘Well, I’m invincible,’” Pabst said. “They’re traditionally our hardest group to reach. … We have to rethink how we try to approach those people that are resistant.”
Failure to wear a seat belt accounts for almost half of all occupant fatalities in car and light truck crashes each year.
Pabst said education will remain a key tool used to get more Wisconsin motorists and passengers to buckle up. An annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which sees an increased law enforcement presence using federal funds, also will remain a priority, he said.
“Unbuckled motorists are much more likely to be ejected, injured or killed in the event of a crash,” State Patrol Superintendent Tony Burrell said in a statement Wednesday. “To prevent needless tragedies, we continue to urge all motorists to buckle up, every seat, every trip whether they’re headed across town or across the country.”
Pabst said while Wisconsin’s seat belt use number is preliminary until approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, he is confident it’s accurate.
He said seat belt use is recorded by observing motorists at predetermined locations across the state. Drivers and passengers are tallied and data are aggregated.
“We’ve been doing this particular survey for many, many years. Even before the mandatory seat belt 10-year anniversary,” Pabst said.
Gov. Tony Evers announced the latest seat belt use number Wednesday during the 45th annual Governor’s Conference on Highway Safety in Wisconsin Dells.
Wisconsin’s seat belt law first went into effect in 1987 as a secondary law, meaning officers could only issue a ticket for non-use if paired with another traffic violation. Seat belt use was at 26% at the time.
In 2009, lawmakers turned seat belt use into a primary law, meaning officers could pull motorists over and cite them for failing to buckle up. Drivers also can be ticketed for every passenger not using a seat belt.
More than 50,000 citations were issued last year for failure to fasten a seat belt. That’s half of the more than 100,000 citations issued in 2009.
Failure to use a seat belt can result in a $10 fine and no points against a person’s driving record.