At 94.5%, New Jersey has one of the best seat belt usage rates in the nation. But in a congested state like New Jersey, that other 5.5% represents tens of thousands of residents who are willing to gamble with their lives and the lives of others behind the wheel.

"We know that seat belts save lives. We see it first hand when people are involved in motor vehicle crashes," said Sgt. First Class Jeff Flynn with the New Jersey State Police.

Earlier this month, four Morristown residents were seriously injured in a crash when their driver lost control of the vehicle on Route 78 in Clinton and overturned. None of the vehicle's occupants were wearing seat belts, authorities said.

In the Garden State, an average of 131 unrestrained drivers and passengers are killed in crashes each year, according to the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety. More than 1,500 unbuckled occupants died on New Jersey's roadways in the past 10 years.

Nationwide in 2017, 47% of the 37,133 people killed in motor vehicle crashes were unrestrained at the time of the crash.

Flynn said non-seat belt users tend to believe it's their right to remain unbuckled — that the choice is harming no one but themselves — but that's not the case.

"When people are not seat-belted, they do become a projectile within that car," Flynn explained. "Other passengers can be seat-belted and the one person who's not in a seat belt will become a deadly projectile."

And other accidents may occur if unbuckled occupants are ejected from a vehicle out into the roadway, he added.

The fine for failure to wear a seat belt is $46 in New Jersey. The state has a rear passenger seat belt requirement as well, but it can only be enforced as a "secondary offense" when a vehicle is stopped for another offense. At least 20 states have a primary enforcement law for rear passengers wearing seat belts.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 39% of adults use seat belts in rear seats.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.