Overall usage rate up

BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana drivers and passengers continue to buckle up at historically high rates, but pickup truck occupants are using seat belts less often than people in cars, SUVs and vans, according to a 2017 survey from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.   The state's overall front-seat usage rate remains in the 87th percentile. according to the report. The seat belt usage rate in Louisiana has consistently increased annually since 2009, when the rate was 74.5%.   "I am pleased we are trending up in seat belt usage, but we must convince pickup drivers and their passengers to buckle up," said Dr. Katara Williams, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.   Drivers and passengers in pickup trucks use their seat belts at an 81.7% rate, according to the survey. This compares to usage rates of 88.6% for cars, 90.1% for SUVs and 92% for vans. Lower usage rates for pickup trucks were consistent in every region of Louisiana.   People in Lake Charles and New Orleans had the highest overall seat belt usage rates at 92.2% and 90.3%, respectively. Alexandria and Baton Rouge drivers and passengers had the lowest rates at 82.7% and 85.1%, respectively. Across the state, the survey showed that 90.7% of women wear their seat belts, compared to 84.1% of men.   The overall upward trend across the state was partly attributed to increased usage among African-American drivers and passengers, who traditionally wear seat belts less often than other occupants. In 2015, the report says, there was a 10 percentage-point gap in usage between white occupants and black occupants; two years later, that gap narrowed to 4.4 percentage points.   "African Americans do not wear seat belts as often and, as a result, are killed in disproportionate numbers in Louisiana highway crashes," Dr. Williams said. "Since the LHSC began targeting minority groups with seat belt usage messages in 2016, we've seen higher usage rates, and that will lead to fewer fatalities."   The survey noted that rear passenger seat belt usage is 65.6%, with rear seat passengers in pickup trucks buckling up only 50% of the time. That rate has improved dramatically since Louisiana's seat belt law included rear seat passengers in 2009, when the best estimate of rear seat usage was 27.2% overall and only 12.5% for pickup trucks.   The seat belt usage survey was conducted by trained observers who were stationed at 334 sites across Louisiana from May 30 through June 16. They recorded information on vehicle type, driver gender, driver race, seat belt use and passengers, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.