Oct 8, 2012 12:24 PM by AP
BATON ROUGE - The number of rear-seat passengers killed in Louisiana crashes fell to a 10-year low in 2011, according to preliminary data. The reduced fatality figure is especially significant in that it came following the Louisiana Legislature's passage of a law in 2009 that broadened the state's seat-belt use requirement to include rear-seat passengers.
Preliminary crash data compiled by the LSU Highway Safety Research Group shows that 34 rear-seat passengers were killed in Louisiana crashes in 2011, significantly below the death rate experienced in most of the previous 10 years. For example, 60 rear-seat passengers died in crashes in 2002 and 52 died in 2008--the last full year before the new law was passed. Forty-four people were killed in 2009, the year the law was passed, and 52 died in 2010, the first full year in which the new law was in effect.
"While one or two years does not make a trend, we are most pleased that the fatality rate for rear-seat passengers fell so significantly in the second full year following passage of the law," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "The intent of the law is to save lives and we are hopeful that what we experienced in 2011 will continue."
A 2009 study conducted by LSU concluded that about 22 lives a year could have been saved in the specific year studied if all rear-seat passengers had buckled up. Other studies found strong evidence of a correlation between fatalities occurring in traffic crashes and seat belt usage of occupants in the back seat. The risk of death for front-seat occupants increases when the back-seat passengers are not buckled up because the unrestrained passenger can become a projectile in a crash. The risk of death for drivers and front-seat passengers increased about five-fold when rear-seat occupants were unrestrained, according to a 2002 study.
"Seat belts are proven lifesavers, but they don't do much good if they go unused by drivers and passengers," LeBlanc said. "The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission encourages all vehicle occupants to always buckle up."
A 2011 observational survey of seat belt use in Louisiana found that 77.7 percent of motorists were buckled up. The national average seat belt use rate in 2010 was 85 percent. Louisiana has what is called a "primary enforcement" law, meaning that officers can stop and ticket people they observe violating the seat belt law.