There is a strong correlation between states that lack stringent seat belt laws and states that suffer high percentages of fatal accidents on rural roads, according to a recent analysis by researchers at the Center for Excellence in Rural Safety at the University of Montana.
According to the researchers, while only 21% of Americans live in rural areas, 57% of all highway deaths occur on rural highways. In fact, among the 10 states with the highest rural highway fatalities, none have primary seat belt laws — laws which authorize a police officer to stop a driver primarily because he or she was not wearing a seat belt. In states with only secondary seat belt laws, a traffic stop must be made primarily for another reason (such as speeding), and then a citation for failure to wear a seat belt may be issued subsequently. Historically, states that have enacted primary seat belt laws have increased their seat belt usage rates by an average of 14%.
Experts attribute high rates of rural crash fatalities to several factors, such as the likelihood that roads with pleasant scenery and light traffic may instill in drivers a false sense of security. Additionally, emergency vehicle response times can be significantly longer in rural areas, adversely impacting the survival rates of rural crash victims. The researchers note that crash victims are 5 to 7 times more likely to die from their injuries if they do not arrive in a trauma center within the first 30 minutes of sustaining injuries in a motor vehicle accident.
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