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Nighttime drivers lagging in seatbelt use, NHTSA says

Posted On Thu, May 23, 2013

Every year since 1985, traffic enforcement officers have focused their efforts on ensuring that motorists use their seatbelts through the national "Click It or Ticket" campaign, which is organized by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With the 2013 effort officially underway, a particularly vigilant amount of focus will be placed on those who operate their cars when the sun goes down.

According to NHTSA data, more people today are using their seatbelts than they ever have before. In many cases, this has helped keep auto insurance rates low, as it's led to fewer accidents as a result. However, recent polling data suggests that usage isn't as common during the evening hours. Based on 2012 estimates, approximately 86 percent of drivers use their seatbelt in the daylight hours. But this rate decreases notably after dark.

David Strickland, NHTSA administrator, pointed out that during both the day and evening, officers will be out in full force, making sure that drivers are buckled. The aim is to promote more people to use seatbelts, wherein they strap themselves in without even thinking about it.

"We hope our 'Click It or Ticket' efforts will encourage more motorists to buckle up and make it a lifelong habit," said Strickland.

What's of particular concern is the risk for accidents being fatal in the evening more so than during the day. Based on 2011 highway fatality statistics, in roughly 60 percent of deadly highway crashes, the occupant was unrestrained. That contrasts sharply with the 40 percent of unrestrained occupants who died after a car accident during the day.

Ray LaHood, secretary of the Department of Transportation, indicated that this is evidence that more work need to be done to get out the message about how crucial seatbelt use is.

Though there are always risks associated with driving, it can be particularly risky to drive at night, mainly because visibility is reduced, not to mention fatigue, as this is traditionally the time in which people sleep. With this in mind, the National Safety Council offers several recommendations to ensure drivers stay safe if they have to drive at night.

Ensure proper amount of driving space
For example, one of the most crucial things to do is to increase one's following distance. Safety experts recommend adhering to the "two second rule" in the general sense. This is accomplished by picking a point in the road and counting how long it takes one's vehicle to get to that point versus the car that's in front. NSC notes that it's best to increase the following distance to three to four seconds, as it's harder to judge another vehicle's speed and how long it may take to come to a complete stop if necessary.

Keep headlights clean
Without headlights, visibility is virtually impossible, especially on back roads where there are no street lights. But headlights themselves aren't enough, as they can often be become dimmed if they haven't been replaced in several years, or if road debris - such as sand or salt - covers them. Ensure that the bulbs are clean. In addition, NSC recommends having the lights properly aligned, as one may shine higher than the other.

Avoid glare
Something else motorists should be sure to do is turn their high beams down when another car is approaching, as they glaring light may cause temporary blindness. If another vehicle doesn't turn theirs down, NSC says it's best to look down and away, preferably toward the breakdown lane. This will enable drivers to maintain the proper direction of the road, using it as a steering guide.

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