Tribal members in Juneau use their seat belts 75.1 percent of the time when driving, according to a study released Friday by the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.
The state of Alaska’s average rate is 86.1 percent, with Juneau at 81.6 percent.
“We’re quite a bit behind,” said Lesa Way, an injury prevention specialist for SEARHC.
SEARHC conducted the study as part of the Indian Health Service’s Ride Safe Program. The program looks at seat belt use on Native American reservations. Because Alaska doesn’t have reservations and Juneau isn’t a village, SEARHC had to find a way to estimate seat belt use among Alaska Natives in Juneau.
Observers completed 41 one-hour sessions tracking seat belt use for drivers and passengers at a Tlingit-Haida Housing apartment complex on Douglas, at the Ethel Lund Medical Center parking lot and at SEARHC’s dental facility parking lot.
Way said SEARHC is trying to encourage tribal members to use seat belts every time.
“It’s about getting people to realize this,” Way said. “You’re 47 percent more likely to survive a crash if you have your seat belt on.”
SEARHC made 688 total observations during the study. The University of North Carolina completed the data analysis.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires the State of Alaska to complete seat belt use surveys by observation annually. The Alaska Injury Prevention Center found during its 2013 study that seat belt use had increased significantly since 2002, when it was just above 65 percent. The rate peaked in 2011 at nearly 90 percent, but has decreased slightly since then.
The state’s study is broken down by region: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai and Mat-Su. Juneau’s seat belt use rate (81.6 percent) is the second lowest; Drivers on the Kenai Peninsula use their seat belts 79.4 percent of the time. The state data showed that Juneau’s truck drivers use their seat belt less often than any other group in the state — only 71 percent of the time. Second to Juneau’s truck drivers were Juneau’s van drivers at 75 percent.