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Time to get tough on seat belt slackers

The first-ever national report card on vehicle safety from the National Safety Council gives 19 states Ds and Fs for driver and passenger safety. States that score the highest, such as California, achieved success through strong seat belt laws that are strictly enforced, according to the Council. As a whole, the report calls the nation's performance "unacceptable”.

"The U.S. ranks behind virtually every other developed country when it comes to seat belt use, " says Alan McMillan, president of the National Safety Council. "We are killing kids and destroying families on our highways."

Seat belt use in the U.S. has increased from 58 percent to 71 percent in the past five years. In comparison, Canada has a 92 percent seat belt rate.

The report gives California the only A in recognition of its 89 percent seat belt use (the highest in the country) and tough seat belt law that is well-enforced — all resulting in dramatically lower fatality rates. Eight states receive Fs: Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas and New Hampshire.

These states fail because of weak seat belt laws (which prevent officers from stopping drivers because they are unbelted), seat belt usage rates below 58 percent, and predictably large numbers of fatalities per capita. New Hampshire fails in large part because it has no adult seat belt law. North Dakota has the lowest seat belt usage rate of any state — 48 percent.

The National Safety Council believes enforcement is the ticket to greater seat belt use. Its top priority: standard enforcement seat belt laws should be adopted in every state. Funds should not be used for any new educational programs unless they can be shown to “actually increase seat belt use,” according to the Council.

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