There are 3,031 good reasons to use a seat belt when going for a drive. That’s the number of lives the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates would have been saved that year if everyone strapped in before starting the engine.
Policymakers have spent decades trying to figure out how to persuade more Americans to use their seat belts. Over the past 13 years, West Virginia has done the most to increase seat belt use among its residents — and the number of fatal accidents has fallen sharply.
In 2001, just 52 percent of West Virginians used seat belts, according to the NHTSA. By 2013, that number was up to 82 percent, a bigger increase than any other state over the same period. That improvement saved hundreds of lives: In 2000, 411 West Virginians died in traffic accidents, according to the Census Bureau . In 2013, that number was down to 332 ; and just 179 West Virginians had died in traffic accidents.
The dramatic improvement in seat belt use isn’t unique to West Virginia. Between 2001 and 2013, 17 states including West Virginia passed what are known as primary enforcement laws, which allow law enforcement officials to pull drivers over for not wearing seat belts. In those states, seat belt use went up an average of 18 percentage points. Nationally, seat belt use is up 14 percentage points.