If you’re a Maryland driver, chances are you can count yourself among the tens of thousands of motorists who wear their safety belts regularly to reduce injury in the event of a traffic accident when traveling in their car, light truck, SUV or minivan. As Baltimore auto accident lawyers and personal injury attorneys, we are heartened to hear this and reminded that seat belts are one of the most important pieces of safety equipment found in motor vehicles.
Of course, air bags and other crash avoidance and mitigation technologies play large roles themselves in helping the occupants of cars and trucks better survive a serious passenger car or trucking traffic accident. Ask almost anyone who has lived through a multiple-vehicle collision or single car crash and you will probably find that he or she was wearing their seat belt at the time.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maryland is one of the top-ten states in seatbelt usage. We rank ninth in the nation, says the CDC, when motorists were polled on whether or not they always use their safety belts. In fact, 89.6 percent of Maryland’s residents said they always use their seatbelt. This is a mere four percentage points away from first-ranked Oregon. And, residents in Washington, D.C., even scored higher at 93.7 percent, based on the CDC survey.
In some ways this should not be too surprising, since Maryland has what is called a “primary-enforcement” seat belt law. In simple terms, our seatbelt law permits police officers to pull a motorist over purely on the basis of the driver not wearing his or her seatbelt. Many states have secondary seatbelt laws, but in most states the patrolman cannot stop a motorist unless there has been another traffic violation.
Currently, Maryland law only provides for a $25 fine and no points for violation of the seatbelt usage law. However, some traffic safety advocates are looking to toughen penalties in legislative sessions later this year. In fact, the Maryland Highway Safety Foundation believes that there is a small percentage of drivers who insist on operating their vehicle with wearing a seatbelt. This has been called an “unacceptable” situation by some and the foundation may be pressing for stricter penalties to encourage more use and close the albeit small gap.
As expected, the CDC survey found that seatbelt compliance was much higher states with primary enforcement (more than 88 percent) than in states that have secondary enforcement laws on the books. In those states, just under 80 percent of respondents said that they always wore safety belts. The lowest compliance rates were apparently in North and South Dakota, where usage was under 60 percent.
Maryland ranks 9th in seat belt use, CDC says, BaltimoreSun.com, January 4, 2011