By KEN THOMAS
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON- Motorists in Hawaii, Washington state and Nevada had the nation's highest rates of clicking their seat belts in 2005, a record year for seat belt use nationwide.Thirty-four states increased their seat belt use this year, the government said Friday. The federal traffic safety agency had said in September that seat belt use overall was a record 82 percent in 2005.
Hawaii led the nation with 95.3 percent. Puerto Rico and seven other states _ Arizona, California, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington state _ scored rates of 90 percent or better.
Mississippi had the lowest rate in the nation with slightly better than 60 percent. It was followed by Massachusetts (64.8 percent), Kentucky (66.7 percent), Arkansas (68.3 percent), South Dakota (68.8 percent) and Kansas (69 percent).
"Safety belts are useless unless people make the effort to wear them," said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. "It's good to see more people taking their safety seriously, but we'll save the celebration for the day when everyone buckles up."
New Hampshire and Wyoming did not report statistically reliable estimates, officials said.
Safety belts are considered the best tool in avoiding traffic deaths and have been used in greater numbers in the past decade. About 58 percent of American motorists buckled up in 1994 and 71 percent wore the belts in 2000.
Department of Transportation officials estimate with 82 percent wearing their seat belts, about 15,700 fatalities and 350,000 serious injuries are prevented every year.
Safety experts say the progress has been helped by high-profile media campaigns such as "Click It or Ticket," stepped up enforcement by police officers and the adoption of primary seat belt laws, which allow police to stop motorists who fail to wear their seat belts.
Primary seat belt laws have passed in 22 states. Most other states have secondary laws, which allow police to issue a seat belt violation only if a driver is stopped for another infraction. New Hampshire has no adult seat belt law.
Phil Haseltine, executive director of the National Safety Council's Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign, said most of the top-performing states had primary enforcement laws, expressing hope that more states with secondary provisions would enhance their laws.
"Law enforcement in a secondary state really has one hand tied behind its back," he said.
In Massachusetts, state lawmakers are considering a primary enforcement bill that might be debated next year. Seat belt use in Massachusetts improved slightly compared with 2004, but supporters say its second-from-the-bottom status underscores the need for the legislation.
"The primary goal is to change behavior and get people to buckle up," said Gloria Craven, a Boston-based lobbyist working on the bill.
On the Net:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, http://www.nhtsa.gov/
To read the safety belt report: