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PRICE — The most recent Utah Seat Belt Use Survey reveals a drop in people buckling up statewide along with a significant decrease in seat belt usage in Carbon County.
The survey has been conducted since 1986 to determine the percentage of people using seat belts in the six most urban counties in the state along with 11 rural counties.
Statewide, the seat belt use rate dropped 2% in 2021 to 88.2% compared to 90.2% in 2019. Because of the pandemic, the survey was not conducted in 2020.
"This marks the first decrease in seat belt use since the implementation of the primary seat belt law in May 2015," said the report from the Utah Department of Public Safety's Highway Safety Office.
The 2021 study was conducted from June 7-19 and again from Aug. 24-25. During that time, more than 31,000 people were observed either as drivers or passengers.
The report said seat belt use varies across the state with "urban counties as a whole having a seat belt usage rate 3.8% higher than rural counties."
Of the counties observed, Carbon County saw the biggest decrease in seat belt usage — down nearly 23% from 2019.
The 2019 survey showed Carbon County with nearly 95% of drivers and passengers buckled up. In 2021, the survey put the county's seat belt use rate at 72%.
"We think part of that could be because of our rural roots where we live and that we have a lot of backcountry roads that are less traveled and maybe people are thinking that they're OK not to have their seat belts on," said Carbon County Sheriff Jeff Wood. "But we want to remind them that accidents do happen on those roads and we've had fatalities on those roads."
Wood said other reasons for the drop in seat belt usage could be drivers used to fewer cars on the road during the pandemic and also an increase in tourism traffic.
"We have a lot of traffic through here so, yeah, it's a big push for us," Wood said about county law enforcement increasing patrols and education about seat belts.
In addition to giving citations and warnings, Wood said the county is also using social media to remind residents to buckle up.
"I'm going to predict — the good people of Carbon County are amazing — it will make a difference," Wood said. "We'll see that trend back up."
In the 2021 survey, Carbon County also had the biggest decrease of any county of males wearing seat belts. Carbon County had 65% of males buckled compared to the state average for males of 86%.
"We kind of wonder if it's not the younger males — the 16 to 25 demographic — so those are the people we are targeting," Wood said. "So we're taking every opportunity to meet with those folks and talk to them and remind them to get in the good habit of putting on your seat belt."
With mountain highways and higher speeds, a sergeant with the Utah Highway Patrol's Region 9, which patrols Carbon County, said seat belts are more important than ever.
"Our shoulders are steep and they're not very big and at high speeds and unrestrained it sometimes ends tragically," said Sgt. Chris Pugliese.
Pugliese said it's disappointing that the survey indicated seat belt usage fell and that the highway patrol is also increasing enforcement and education in Carbon County.
"You don't want to be one of those people in a crash that is going to regret for the rest of your life that you didn't ask your friend to buckle up," he said.