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NASHVILLE — Tennesseans' use of seat belts has hit a record high with just over nine of every 10 drivers using the harnesses — a figure just above the national average — state officials announced Tuesday.

The Tennessee Highway Safety Office said usage rates rose from 88.5 percent in 2017 to 90.9 percent in 2018.

Officials said it's the first time Tennessee's usage rate surpassed 90 percent. The state's 2018 usage rate also exceeded the national usage rate of 90.1 percent.

"Tennessee is the 24th state to achieve 90 percent seat belt usage," highway safety office Director Vic Donoho said in a statement. "We appreciate the substantial efforts made by the legislature, law enforcement, and local communities to reach this milestone."

Donoho said that "moving forward, we will continue striving to achieve 100 percent."

But it appears officials still have work to do when it comes to male drivers and vehicle occupants.

Overall, female occupants displayed a higher usage rate (94.8 percent) than males (88.3 percent).

Another problem area: Drivers and occupants of pickup trucks had the lowest usage rate — 84.24 percent.

Perhaps few know that problem better right now than a male truck driver and Tennessee lawmaker, Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.

In February, Faison crashed his Ford F-150 truck on Interstate 40 east in Smith County. He wasn't wearing a seat belt when he crossed the center line into the right lane where he collided with a truck, according to a crash report.

Faison's truck then veered off the road, struck a guardrail and rolled over multiple times, resulting in his hospitalization for injuries, including a severe scalp wound.

In a Facebook post, Faison admitted he was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash. He said emergency workers told him he was lucky to have survived.

"I should have had it on. No excuses," Faison said.

Other highlights from Tennessee's 2018 seat belt survey include:

» Research data was collected at 190 pre-identified roadway locations across the state.

» Researchers observed more than 27,000 front-seat vehicle occupants.

» Vehicles observed included cars, pickup trucks, vans and SUVs.

Seat belt usage data was collected through an annual roadside observational survey conducted by the University of Tennessee Knoxville's Center for Transportation Research.

Tennessee's seat belt usage rate has been certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.

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