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Survey: Front Seat Belt Use at Record Level in NJ

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(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — More New Jerseyans than ever are using front seat belts, but use of seat belts by back seat passengers has declined, according to a recent observational survey conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The survey showed front seat belt usage has risen to a record 93.73 percent, an increase of slightly more than 1 percent from last year, state highway safety officials said Thursday.

Using guidelines set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, state officials say that increase in front seat belt use will prevent eight fatalities, 236 serious injuries and 177 minor injuries. It also will save New Jersey nearly $57 million in crash-related economic costs annually.

However, only 27.09 percent of adults are buckling up in the back seat, about 5 percent less than in 2009, despite a new state law requiring it. And the number of back seat passengers between ages 8 and 18 using seat belts also declined in the last year, from 53.06 percent to 36.97.

Overall, back seat belt usage rate dropped to 47.77 percent, down from 51.73 percent.

Former Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law in January mandating that all back seat passengers use seat belts. It’s enforceable only a secondary offense, however, meaning that police need another reason to stop a vehicle to issue violators a ticket. The fine is $46.

“When New Jersey’s primary seat belt law took effect in 2000, the front seat belt usage rate stood at 74 percent,” said state Highway Traffic Safety Director Pam Fischer said. She noted that the rate has increased steadily as motorists recognized the safety benefits of buckling up.

She said the challenge now is to raise awareness about back seat safety.

During a “Click It or Ticket” campaign, which ran from May 24 to June 6 and involved hundreds of police agencies across the state, officers issued 35,671 seat belt citations, down from 41,442 in 2009.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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