May 21, 2001
Guest Editorial: from America Buckles Up Children
As tens of thousands of law enforcement officers mobilize to save lives this week by cracking down on seat belt violators, a new report from the National Safety Council gives Washington a grade of B- for driver and passenger safety.
The report card, which ranks the 50 states and the District of Columbia, gives 19 states Ds and Fs; an additional eight states receive grades of C-. States that did poorly have failed to adopt proven strategies to raise seat belt use, most importantly, enactment of strong seat belt laws.
States that score the highest, such as California, achieved success through strong seat belt laws that are strictly enforced. As a whole, the nation's performance rates as "unacceptable."
"The U.S. ranks behind virtually every other developed country when it comes to seat belt use, and never has mediocrity been so lethal for a nation," says Alan McMillan, president of the National Safety Council.
"We are killing kids and destroying families on our highways, and that is why this national seat belt mobilization is so important - we know it gets people to buckle up and saves lives."
More than 10,000 law enforcement agencies are participating in Operation ABC Mobilization: America Buckles up Children - the largest-ever nationwide crackdown on drivers who don't buckle up and don't buckle up kids. From now through Memorial Day, officers coast-to-coast will sharply intensify enforcement of seat belt and child restraint laws.
Traffic crashes are the Number1 killer of kids and among the leading causes of death to teens and adults.
Overall, 32,061 drivers and passengers died in crashes in 1999 - a staggering number of fatalities per capita when compared to most other developed countries, the report said.
An estimated 9,553 of these victims would be alive today if they had only worn seat belts.
"Across the nation this week, officers will be out in force to save lives," said Colonel Anna Amos of the South Carolina Transport Police. "Our message is simple - we don't want to write tickets, but if necessary, we will. It's zero tolerance for people who don't buckle up and don't buckle up kids."
In the report, California got the only A as a result of a strong belt law that is strictly enforced. Eight states received Fs, including Idaho, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas and New Hampshire. These states failed because of weak seat belt laws, low seat belt rates, and predictably large numbers of fatalities per capita.
New Hampshire failed in large part because it has no adult seat belt law.
"While many states are still doing poorly, we take heart that more and more states are showing the will to do what is right," said Chuck Hurley, Executive Director of the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign.