A new report from the National Safety Council (NSC) says that more efforts are needed to crack down on seat belt scofflaws to lift America out of deadly mediocrity when it comes to seat belt use.
The report card from NSC gave 19 states "D''s" and "F''s" for driver and passenger safety; an additional eight states received grades of "C."
States that scored the highest, such as California, achieved success through strong seat belt laws that are strictly enforced.
As a whole, the council said, the nation''s performance rates as "unacceptable."
"The United States ranks behind virtually every other developed country when it comes to seat belt use -- with deadly consequences," said Alan McMillan, NSC president. "We are killing kids and destroying families on our highways, and that is why this national seat belt mobilization is so critically important. We know that high-visibility enforcement gets people to buckle up and saves lives."
More than 10,000 law enforcement agencies yesterday launched the Operation ABC Mobilization: America Buckles up Children -- the largest nationwide crackdown on drivers who don''t buckle up and don''t buckle up kids.
From now through Memorial Day, officers across the country will blanket roadways with checkpoints and increased patrols, sharply intensifying enforcement of seat belt and child restraint laws.
"Across the nation this week, officers will be out in force to save lives," said Anna Amos, colonel 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."
While giving average and poor grades to a majority of states, NSC pointed to encouraging developments in many states -- including broad participation of law enforcement in the Mobilization.
McMillan highlighted an unprecedented regional effort in connection with the Mobilization in eight southeastern states called Click It or Ticket.
The Click It or Ticket program in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee will bring to bear more than $3.25 million in paid advertising alerting drivers to unprecedented levels of enforcement -- more than 15,500 checkpoints or stepped-up patrols over two weeks.
"Research and experience from the past 30 years in the United States and elsewhere has shown the public education on the safety benefits of seat belts doesn''t significantly raise belt use. We know what works to get people to buckle up and save lives," said Chuck Hurley, executive director of the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign. "While many states are still doing poorly, we take heart that more and more states are showing they will do what is right."
According to NSC, traffic crashes are the No. 1 killer of kids and are 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.
by Virginia Sutcliffe