Washington Deploys Statewide Seat Belt Enforcement to Save Lives

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Today, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) announces that High Visibility Enforcement patrols are active across the state to monitor for drivers who are not wearing their seat belts or do not have child passengers in the correct car seat. These emphasis patrols are running from May 20 – June 2 as part of WTSC’s annual seat belt campaign, which strives to remind Washingtonians that wearing a seat belt is one of the most important and effective ways to survive a crash.

WTSC measures seat belt use through observational and random response surveys. The observed rate in 2023 was 93.3%. However, the Annual Statewide Traffic Safety Survey shows that seat belt use declined slightly across the state in 2023. One concerning trend is that only 83% of people surveyed said they usually wear a seat belt when in the back seat of a vehicle. The survey also showed that some people are hesitant to ask each other to buckle up, with almost 18% of respondents saying they’d be slightly uncomfortable asking someone else to use a seat belt.

“Wearing a seat belt drastically decreases the chance of dying or being seriously injured in a collision, regardless of where you are sitting in a vehicle. Airbags and other safety features are designed to work best when you are buckled up,” said Erica Stineman, Communications Manager, WTSC. “We are asking everyone to take advantage of this focus on seat belts to make sure everyone in their vehicle is secured safely, every time they drive.”

Despite Washington maintaining a high seat belt use rate for many years, the number of fatalities and serious injuries involving people not wearing seat belts has increased to the highest number since before 2010. WTSC urges all Washingtonians to buckle up because it is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash. The campaign will pay extra attention to regions of the state where seat belt use was significantly lower than the statewide seat belt use rate, including Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Mason, Stevens, and Thurston counties.

“We know that a vast majority of people in Washington use their seat belts, and we appreciate you helping us make the road a safer place,” continued Stineman. “Our hope is that this campaign will reach some of the folks who choose not to buckle up so we can get closer to 100% seat belt use across the state this year.”

WTSC is asking businesses and parents to help by creating and enforcing seat belt expectations. In the 2023 study, 29% of employed respondents said their workplace either did not require seat belts or did not have a policy about seat belt use, with only 33% reporting that their employers did have a policy in place. Similarly, nearly 9% of people surveyed stated that they did not have seat belt rules within their family.

Parents and caregivers can take advantage of this focus on seat belts to ensure that their child passengers are also secured safely. For the best protection, a child should remain in each stage of restraint until they reach the maximum height and weight based on the manufacturer’s instructions.  According to the law in Washington, children up to age 13 must also ride in the back seat when practical to do so. Many communities have certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians available to help caregivers ensure they are using the right seats in the right ways.

Washington state laws require that everyone in a motor vehicle wears a safety restraint that is properly fastened. The fine for not wearing a seatbelt or appropriate child restraint costs $136. More information can be found at the WTSC’s Together We Get There website. Child passenger safety resources are at wacarseats.com with materials available in seven languages.