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What you pay for auto insurance is largely based on what kind of risk the company predicts you will be, based on known factors like your driving history, the kind of car you drive, your age and gender, your marital status and where you live.
Carole Walker, RMIIA

Seat Belts, Air Bags & Child Passenger Safety

Seat Belts

Can I get a ticket for not wearing a seat belt?
Seatbelt use laws are on the books in every state except New Hampshire. However, only 34 states and the District of Columbia had primary enforcement laws as of April 2015, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Primary seatbelt laws allow law enforcement officers to stop a car for noncompliance with seatbelt laws. In the other states, which have secondary enforcement laws, drivers may only be stopped and they and their passengers ticketed, if they have violated other traffic safety laws. New Hampshire is the only state in the nation that does not have a law requiring adults to wear seatbelts.

Colorado has a secondary enforcement law that allows officers to ticket you for not wearing a seat belt only if you are stopped while violating other traffic safety laws as well. Colorado's secondary seat belt law went into effect July 1, 1987, and charges a fine of $71 for noncompliance. The state's 2013 estimated usage rate was 82.1%.

As of August 1, 2010, children younger than 1 year and less than 20 pounds must be in a rear-facing infant seat; children 1 through 3 years and 20-40 pounds must be in a child safety seat; children 4 through 7 years must be in a booster seat. For children under 16 years, primary enforcement laws apply, and the fine for not buckling up or properly restraining a child is $81.

New Mexico has a high 92% estimated usage rate as of 2013. The state's primary seat belt law went into effect in 1986 and carries a $25 fine.

Utah has a primary seat belt law with a fine of $45 for noncompliance. The law went into effect in 2015 and applies to all occupants. In 2013, Utah's usage rate was estimated at 82.4%.

Wyoming has a secondary seat belt law and charges a fine of $25 for noncompliance. This law went into effect in 1989. Wyoming's 2013 seat belt usage rate was estimated at 81.9%.

Nationally observed seat belt usage was at 87% in 2014.

Do seat belts really prevent injury or save lives?
Yes. Among passenger vehicle occupants over the age of four, seatbelts saved an estimated 12,584 lives in 2013 and about 62,500 during the five-year period from 2009 to 2013. In fatal crashes in 2013, 79 percent of passenger vehicle occupants who were totally ejected from the vehicle were killed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that when used, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For light truck occupants, the risk is reduced by 60 percent and 65 percent, respectively.

NHTSA also says that in 2010, use of seat belts saved the U.S. economy $69 billion in medical care, lost productivity and other costs related to auto crash injuries, but the failure to wear seat belts caused $72 billion in economic losses.

Does seat belt use go up in states that have primary seat belt laws?
Seatbelt use laws are on the books in every state except New Hampshire. However, only 34 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement laws, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Primary seatbelt laws allow law enforcement officers to stop a car for noncompliance with seatbelt laws. In the other states, which have secondary enforcement laws, drivers may only be stopped and they and their passengers ticketed, if they have violated other traffic safety laws. In New Hampshire, legislation requiring seatbelt use was rejected by the Senate in May 2007, leaving it the only state in the nation that does not have a law requiring adults to wear seatbelts.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that states with primary enforcement laws have lower fatality rates. The agency compared the percentage of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities and fatality rates between states that have primary seatbelt use laws and states that did not have them for 2005 and 2006. Besides having a smaller percentage of passenger vehicle occupant fatalities that were unrestrained, the fatality rates in primary enforcement states were much lower than for all other states. In primary enforcement states the passenger vehicle occupant fatality rates were 0.97 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled and 10.20 per 100,000 population. This compares to 1.06 and 11.78 (respectively) for all other states.

Seatbelt use in the United States remained at 87 percent in 2014, unchanged from 2013, according to NHTSA. States with primary seatbelt laws had an average 90 percent usage rate, 11 points higher than the 79 percent in states with secondary or no laws. Seatbelt use was highest in the West, at 95 percent, and lowest in the Northeast and Midwest, at 83 percent. Seatbelt use was 87 percent in the South. Seatbelt use was highest for occupants of vans and SUVs, at 89 percent, and was at 88 percent for occupants of passenger cars. Seatbelt use for occupants of pickup trucks was 77 percent.

Air Bags

Do air bags really save lives?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says frontal airbags saved 2,388 lives of those age 13 and older in 2013. Airbags, combined with seatbelts, are the most effective safety protection available for passenger vehicles. Seatbelts alone reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent. The fatality-reducing effectiveness for frontal airbags is 14 percent when no seatbelt is used and 11 percent when a seatbelt is used in conjunction with airbags.

I've heard so many conflicting reports. Are my air bags safe?
Virtually all new cars have air bags and they're saving lives. The fatality-reducing effectiveness for airbags is 14 percent when no seatbelt is used and 11 percent when a seatbelt is used in conjunction with airbags. Side airbags, which protect the head, chest and abdomen, reduce driver deaths by an estimated 37 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

People who use seat belts may think they don't need air bags. But they do. Air bags and lap/shoulder belts work together as a system, and one without the other isn't as effective. But, there also are problems with air bags. Inflating bags have caused some serious injuries and deaths.

How do I avoid injuries caused by air bags?
Serious inflation injuries occur primarily because of people's positions when air bags first begin inflating. Anyone, regardless of size or age, who's on top of, or very close to, an air bag is at risk. Most air bag deaths have involved people who weren't using belts, were using them incorrectly, or were positioned improperly.

People not using their seat belts or using them incorrectly, especially passengers, are at risk because they're likely to move forward during hard braking or other violent maneuvers before crashes. Then they're likely to be very close to, or on top of, air bags before inflation begins. Improperly positioned people at risk include drivers who sit very close to the steering wheel - 10 inches or closer - and infants in rear-facing restraints in front seats.

Understanding that air bag injury risk is related to position leads to a few simple steps that can eliminate the risks without sacrificing air bag benefits.

Does my height or the fact that I'm a woman put me at greater risk of air bag injury?
It isn't your size, gender, or age that determines risk. It's position in relation to an air bag. Most adults can virtually eliminate the risk by buckling up. Neither short women nor elderly drivers are especially vulnerable if they use safety belts and sit at least 10 inches from the steering wheel.

Should I consider an on/off switch for my air bag(s)?
The federal government has set criteria for the very few cases when air bag on/off switches may be needed to avoid injury. However, getting a driver air bag switch makes sense when one cannot comfortably drive while sitting back and away from the steering wheel. One may also wish to get permission for a switch based on medical need (i.e. a pregnant woman who cannot get her abdomen away from the steering wheel).

What About My Child?

NHTSA says that in 2013 the lives of an estimated 263 children under the age of five were saved by restraints.

Where should kids sit?
Don't put a rear-facing restraint in the front seat. Starting with the first trip home from the hospital, put an infant in the center back seat. Make sure the rear facing restraint is tightly secured to the vehicle with an adult safety belt and the baby is buckled snugly in.

The back seat is the safest place. However, if your vehicle does not have a back seat, then an on/off switch for the front passenger air bag is essential. Even without air bags, kids riding in back are much less likely to be killed. Today, riding in back is even more important because it keeps children away from inflating air bags.

How should I buckle up my kids, as they get older?
When babies outgrow their rear-facing restraints, they should graduate to forward-facing ones or booster seats attached to a vehicle's back seat with an adult safety belt. As kids later graduate to adult belts, proper restraint use still is essential. Don't put the shoulder portion of a belt behind a child or under the arm. A lap belt should be positioned so it's low and snug across a child's hips, not up over the abdomen.

Older kids should continue riding in a back seat. Only if there are too many children to put them all in back should a child be allowed to ride up front. Then make sure the seat is all the way back and the child is securely buckled and sitting back in the seat. Leaning forward to, for example, fiddle with radio dials can put a child at risk. If you worry about keeping a child sitting back, you may wish to consider getting an on/off switch for the passenger air bag.

What about Colorado's child passenger safety law?
Colorado's child passenger safety law is primary enforcement, meaning the driver can be stopped and ticketed if an officer sees an unrestrained or improperly restrained child in the vehicle.

Parents who need help determining the safest option for their child or baby can visit one of 140 car seat fit stations across Colorado. The fit stations provide free assistance and car seat checks that are conducted by trained child passenger safety technicians. Parents can find a fit station closest to them by visiting www.carseatscolorado.com or calling toll free 1-877-LUV-TOTS.

How the law works:

  • Babies under 1 year old and less than 20 pounds must ride in a rear-facing car seat and only in the back seat of the vehicle.

  • Once babies turn 1 year old and weigh at least 20 pounds, the law gives them the option of using a front-facing car seat. Rear-facing car seats are still allowed by law and safety experts recommend that parents continue using them to the upper weight limit allowed by the car seat manufacturer because it provides the most protection.

  • Children ages 4, 5, 6 and 7 must continue to be protected in a child safety restraint. For most kids in this age group that means a booster seat, but experts recommend that children remain in a forward- facing car seat longer if the upper weight limit of the seat allows it (usually 40-50 pounds).

  • When a child turns 8, the law allows them to use a vehicle seat belt. But for the best protection, safety experts recommend that kids continue to use a booster seat until they are at least 4'9" tall, which half of children will not reach until they are 11 years old.

  • The minimum fine is $82 per violation. All child passenger safety violations are primary enforcement.

Additional Information
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