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Teen seat belt use increases in Mo.

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio

Jefferson City, Mo. – More teenagers in Missouri are buckling up, based on the latest information from the state's Transportation department.

Sixty-six percent of teens surveyed say they use seat belts, compared to 61 percent a year ago. Melissa Black with MoDOT is happy with the news, although she says they're not sure yet why the numbers are suddenly better.

"We're hoping it's happening because we're getting out there, we're trying to educate teens more about why they need to buckle up," Black said. "We've been doing a lot of education with television ads, radio ads, internet ads."

Meanwhile, overall seat belt use in Missouri, including both adults and teens, inched down from 77 percent last year to 76 percent this year. Black says Missourians also lag behind the rest of the country, as the national seat belt usage rate is at 84 percent. And she adds that the improved teen seat belt usage number is still too low.

"Every day we see stories in the news about traffic crashes and kids getting ejected because they weren't wearing their seat belts," Black said. "They're getting injured, they're getting killed, and it's all completely needless."

Black suggests more lives would be saved if police could ticket people for simply not buckling up, instead of only doing so while stopped for other reasons. But Missouri lawmakers have shot down attempts to move to primary seat belt enforcement, citing both freedom of choice and fears that it could lead to racial profiling.