In June 2002, when the primary seatbelt law went into effect, approximately 82 percent of Washington drivers wore seatbelts. Today the state celebrates a seatbelt use rate of 97.5, marking the seventh consecutive year of more than 95 percent of Washingtonians buckling up.
During the past 10 years it is estimated that nearly 1,010 lives were saved due to increases in seatbelt use. After the adoption of the Click it or Ticket project, with the primary seatbelt law enforcement, the number of traffic deaths dropped from 658 in 2002 to a preliminary figure of 455 in 2011.
"Ten years ago we hoped that we could make an impact on the number of traffic fatalities if we could increase seatbelt use," said Dr. Beth Ebel, Director of the Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and University of Washington Associate Professor of Pediatrics.
"Now we have one of the highest seatbelt use rates in the nation. We have prevented thousands of serious injuries and deaths. Buckling up is the routine," said Ebel.
Studies show seatbelt use decreases the chance of dying in a crash by 60 percent and reduces the risk of head injury by 80 percent.
That's why between Monday, May 21, and Sunday, June 3, motorists in Yakima County can expect to see law enforcement patrolling city and county roadways in search of unbuckled drivers and passengers.
The Grandview, Sunnyside, Union Gap and Yakima Police Departments, the Yakima County Sheriff's Office and the Washington State Patrol will be teaming up and participating in these extra patrols, with the support of the Yakima County Target Zero Traffic Safety Task Force.
"The point is not to write seatbelt citations, but to encourage drivers to buckle up," said Darrin T. Grondel, Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission. "We estimate that for every traffic death avoided, it's estimated four serious injuries are avoided, and seatbelt use can help us achieve that."