Unrestrained Motor Vehicle Occupants
The combination of air bags and lap and shoulder safety belts offers the most effective safety protection available for passenger vehicle occupants. Research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. This percentage is even higher for occupants of light trucks with a 60% reduction in the risk of fatal injury and 65% in moderate-to-critical injury.
While nationwide seat belt use was at a record high of 86% in 2012, 52 percent of fatally injured motor vehicle occupants nationwide whose restraint use was known were unrestrained at the time of the crash. NHTSA estimates that seat belts saved 11,949 lives for occupants age 5 and older in 2011; however, if all passenger vehicle occupants age 5 and older had worn seat belts, an additional 3,384 lives could have been saved.
The State of South Carolina has seen a steady increase in statewide safety belt use rates since the passage and enactment of a primary safety belt law, from 69.7% in 2005 to 90.5% in 2012. South Carolina’s observed seat belt usage rate was lower than the national rate for 2008 and 2009, but edged slightly higher in 2010 and 2011, and by 2012 was 4.5 percentage points higher than the national average rate. The observed seat belt use rate in South Carolina has ranged from 79.5% (2008) to 90.5% in 2012. South Carolina survey results, certified by NHTSA, indicated an increase in the observed seatbelt use rate in 2013 to a historic high of 91.7%. The national rate during the 2008-2011 time period ranged from a low of 83% in 2008 to a high of 86% in 2012.
Unrestrained motor vehicle occupants killed on South Carolina roads from 2008 to 2012 totaled 1,723, just over 50% of the total number of occupant fatalities. There were 3,469 unbelted vehicle occupants severely injured during the same time period.
Rear seat occupants were unrestrained in more than half of the fatal and severe injury collisions from 2008 to 2012, while drivers were unrestrained 32.9% of the time, only slightly higher than front seat passengers at 32.4%.
Pickup truck drivers involved in fatal and severe injury crashes were found to be least likely of all drivers to wear a lap/shoulder belt. Truck tractor drivers involved in fatal and severe injury collisions were unrestrained in 23% of the collisions, significantly lower than the state average of 55.5%.
A greater percentage of motor vehicle occupants who died in traffic collisions were unrestrained compared to those severely injured. On average, 55.5% of persons fatally injured in traffic collisions who had access to restraints were unbelted. Far fewer occupants who suffered severe injuries were unbelted, at 26.6%.