Wayne Moore, M.D., chief of emergency medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville and Medical Director for Bio-terrorism Preparation and Response at the Tennessee Department of Health, applauded the signing of Mississippi’s primary enforcement safety belt law, which takes effect May 27, 2006.
“This new law will greatly impact the current public health crisis in Mississippi resulting from the rash of preventable deaths and injuries caused by vehicle crashes involving motorists who are unbuckled,” said Moore. “I can assure you that this primary enforcement seat belt legislation will change the behavior of noncompliant Mississippi citizens and help them save their own lives.”
In October, Moore testified to a special hearing of the House Transportation Committee of the Mississippi General Assembly. According to the Mississippi State University, primary seat belt legislation is supported by 70 percent of Mississippians. In addition, Mississippi will reap a one time incentive grant of $8.7 million from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for passing the law.
Primary enforcement legislation authorizes policemen to stop and ticket motorists observed not wearing seat belts in a moving vehicle. The old, secondary enforcement required police to observe and ticket other violations before they could cite motorists for failure to comply with the seat belt law.
Data collected by the Meharry-State Farm Alliance, which unites Meharry and State Farm, the nation’s largest auto insurer, in a drive to save lives, show that primary enforcement statutes result almost immediately in a 10 to 15 percent increase in motorists’ compliance with seat belt laws. In Mississippi, such an increase would move the state closer to parity with the national average, which was recently reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be 82 percent. In Mississippi, the use rate is 60.8 percent and falling.
Worse yet, according to Irwin Goldzweig, Meharry’s Director of the Office of Development and Corporate Relations, “a seven-month Meharry observational study, ending in June 2005 and involving 57,810 urban drivers and passengers in primary and secondary enforcement states, disclosed that the rate of seat belt use was significantly lower in the secondary states than rates recorded by similar cohorts in states with a primary enforcement law.”
Goldzweig added: “Motorists in our nation’s urban areas are still very much at risk. For example, in Atlanta, urban capital of a primary law state, seat belt use is much higher – i.e., 82.6 percent for drivers and 75.6 percent for passengers – than in Jackson, where only 49.9 percent of drivers and 39.1 percent of passengers buckle up.”
“These statistics support the notion that we are literally observing a public health crisis that is preventable by the simple act of buckling up,” said Dr. Moore.