Traffic fatalities rose 16% for non-belt wearers in 2020

Travel disruptions caused by COVID-19 and more people working from home translated to a big drop in traffic accidents in Texas in 2020.

But TxDOT officials say for some reason there was a spike in the number of overall fatalities — 16 percent higher — among drivers and passengers not wearing seat belts.

“This past year we have all been reminded of the simple acts we can take to protect our lives and those of our loved ones,” said TxDOT Executive Director James Bass. “Wearing a seat belt is the most important step we can take to protect ourselves from serious injury or even death in a traffic crash.”

There were 1,073 fatalities in 2020 and 926 fatalities in 2019 which occurred among people not wearing seat belts while driving on Texas roads, TxDOT officials say.

Research shows that using a seat belt reduces the risk of being killed in a traffic accident by up to 45 percent for front-seat passengers and up to 60 percent for those riding in the back seat.

Curiously, TxDOT researchers found the worst offenders of the mandatory seat belt law seem to be pickup drivers. Close to half of all pickup drivers killed in crashes last year in Texas were not wearing a seat belt.

Additionally, people driving at night wear their seat belt less often. Last year, 59 percent of all crashes in which unbuckled drivers or passengers died occurred at night.

TxDOT statistics crunched for 2018 show that among the state’s 40 biggest cities the highest ratio of fatalities per number of residents occurred in Dallas, Beaumont, Odessa, Fort Worth, and Wichita Falls. Brownsville ranked No. 12.

Among the safest cities using the same criteria, Allen led the way, followed by The Woodlands, Frisco, Pearland and Sugarland. McAllen ranked No. 13.

With COVID-19 restrictions easing, the summer driving season begins, and from May 24 to June 6, Texas officers and deputies will step up enforcement of the state’s seat belt and child car seat laws, TxDOT officials said.

Texas law requires everyone in a vehicle to be properly secured in the front or back seat or face fines and fees up to $200. Children younger than 8 must be restrained in a child safety seat or booster seat unless they are taller than 4 feet 9 inches. If a child isn’t secured, the driver faces fines of up to $250.

From 2002 to 2019, the Click It or Ticket initiative in Texas is estimated to have saved more than 6,000 lives, prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries, and resulted in $23.6 billion in economic savings, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

rkelley@valleystar.com