La Plata County has one of the lowest rates of seat belt usage in 2018 with only 76 percent of drivers using seat belts versus the state average of 86.3 percent, according to a survey conducted by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
CDOT’s 2018 State of Colorado Statewide Seat Belt Survey shows seat belt usage improved to 86.3 percent from 83.8 percent in 2017 – the first improvement since 2015. Still, Colorado trails the national seat belt average of 90 percent.
In addition to La Plata County, five of the six counties with the lowest use rates were rural – Cheyenne at 65 percent, Delta at 75 percent and Montezuma and Chaffee counties at 77 percent.
Seat belts reduce the risk of injury and death in a crash by an estimated 50 percent, and fines for not buckling up start at $65, with parents or caregivers caught with an improperly restrained child receiving a minimum fine of $82.
In 2017, La Plata County was at 74 percent in seat belt usage, and Colorado ranked 40th in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Data for 2018 was not available, CDOT said.
Last year, CDOT recorded seven unbuckled fatalities in La Plata County, three related to impaired drivers.
Colorado had 222 unbuckled fatalities in 2017, about half the 410 total passenger vehicle deaths in the state, according to year-to-date fatality data.
“Although some counties improved, overall the state is below the national average,” said Darrell Lingk, director of CDOT’s Office of Transportation Safety, in a news release. “Colorado unfortunately lacks a primary seat belt law, so people are only cited for not wearing a seat belt when they are pulled over for another traffic violation. This results in less people buckling up.”
The survey also reported seat belt use rates in 31 Colorado counties, ranging from the lowest rate of 65 percent in Cheyenne County to the highest rate of 95 percent in Douglas County. The most improved county was Clear Creek, at 85 percent, a gain of 8 percentage points.
The Colorado Statewide Seat Belt Survey is required by NHTSA and is conducted by surveyors who observe and record seat belt use for drivers and front seat passengers only. For the CDOT survey, 132,447 vehicles and 162,096 occupants were observed during two weeks in June between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. NHTSA has said belt use is significantly lower, and unbelted fatalities are far greater at night.