Rear-seat passenger deaths in Louisiana fell by 35 percent last year, the lowest fatality level in 10 years, officials said Monday.
The Louisiana Legislature in 2009 required seat belts for all passengers, not just those in the front seat.
“One or two years does not make a trend but it is certainly better than going the other way,” said John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.
Rear-seat passenger deaths last year totaled 34, down from 52 the previous year.
Figures on how many of those who died were not wearing seat belts were not available.
A total of 60 rear-seat passengers died in 2002, according to LeBlanc’s office.
LeBlanc said he thinks the 2009 law played a key role in last year’s reduction in fatalities.
Before that action, he said, there were no signs of any significant change in rear-seat deaths.
During the legislative debate in 2009, LeBlanc said less than one in three passengers in rear seats used seat belts.
In 2008, figures show, 33 of 55 back-seat passengers who were killed were not wearing safety belts.
In 2007, there were 58 back-seat passenger deaths and 42 were not wearing safety belts.
A 2009 study by LSU concluded that, if the state had a mandatory seat belt law for back-seat riders, annual deaths would drop by 22.
Backers of the change also said it would trim the risks to front-seat passengers since unrestrained riders in the back can become like a projectile in a crash.
LeBlanc said that, after the change won approval, his office launched a public awareness campaign.
“We did a lot of that and we got the news that we wanted,” he said.
The law took effect just more than three years ago.
Violators are subject to fines of $25 for the first offense, $50 for a second and $50 plus court costs for subsequent offenses.
The law is a primary offense, which means motorists can be stopped solely for not wearing their seat belts.
While statewide traffic deaths have shown improvements in recent years, lack of seat belts is one of the factors cited in most of the fatalities.
LeBlanc’s office said that last year a survey showed 77.7 percent of motorists were buckled up compared with the national average of 85 percent in 2010.
Indications are Louisiana’s rate is nearing 80 percent.