Seat belt use among local teens has increased steadily over the past few years, but health department officials say area youth may be less likely to wear their seat belt when driving around town.
A survey conducted by the Tooele County Health Department last fall found that roughly 80 percent of teen drivers from Tooele, Stansbury and Grantsville high schools wore their seat belts while driving around town.
That suggests a general upward trend, said Amy Bate, a health educator with the health department. In 2012, the same survey found that 78 percent of area youth buckled up, an increase from 73 percent in 2011.
However, the progress is uneven across local high schools. Stansbury and Grantsville high school students continue to improve. About 88.5 percent of teen drivers from Stansbury High School wore seat belts last fall, up from 85 percent in 2012. At Grantsville High, 77.5 percent wore seat belts, compared to 74 percent in 2012.
However, at Tooele High School, only 74 percent of students wore their seat belts last fall. In 2012, about 76 percent buckled up.
The survey is not based on self-reported behavior, but on observations conducted twice a year by the health department. For each observation, health educators team with highway patrol troopers to monitor the entrances and exits to high school parking lots, where they take down a tally of how many students buckle up before they hit the road.
The variance between schools likely resulted from a combination of different driving habits and demographics, Bates said. For example, Stansbury High School is located near highways, whereas students at other schools can stay on the backroads more easily.
“My thought — some of those kids go straight out of the school onto the highway,” she said. “Students, and people in general, are better at buckling up when they know they’re going out onto the highway.”
Demographically, the lower rates of seat belt use at Tooele and Grantsville follow known statewide trends, Bates added. State data has found that pickup truck drivers, men, and rural residents are less likely to wear their seat belts than other drivers.
“We see in the more rural areas that there are more people driving pickups — a lot of them young men,” she said. “They just aren’t as likely to wear their seat belt.”
In recent years, local trends have begun to reverse. While boys were 1 percent less likely to wear their seat belts at Grantsville High School, they surpassed female drivers at both Tooele and Stansbury last fall.