Seat Belt Usage Rates

Primary seat belt enforcement laws, in which a person can be ticketed solely for not wearing a seat belt, have resulted in an increase in national seat belt usage rates and a corresponding decrease in the number of automobile fatalities.  

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States are moving toward primary seat belt enforcement laws and national seat belt usage rates are on the rise.

  • In 2006, half the states had primary seat belt enforcement laws. By the end of 2010, six more states—Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin—had passed primary seat belt enforcement laws, bringing the total to 31 states.1
  • Primary seat belt enforcement laws allow police to ticket a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, even if no other traffic offense has taken place. Secondary enforcement laws allow for a seat belt violation only if the officer has stopped the vehicle for some other reason. 
  • Nationally, 82 percent of Americans used seat belts in 2006; that had risen to 85 percent by the end of 2010.2
States with stricter seat belt enforcement laws tend to have higher seat belt usage rates.
  • In 2006, states with primary seat belt enforcement laws averaged 85.6 percent in seat belt usage, while those with secondary enforcement laws averaged 77.8 percent seat belt usage; by the end of 2010, states with primary enforcement laws averaged seat belt usage rates of 88.9 percent, while those with secondary enforcement averaged 80.7 percent.3
  • Nevada is the only state with a secondary seat belt enforcement law that has a 90 percent or higher seat belt usage rates.4
  • In 2010, 90.3 percent of states with primary seat belt enforcement laws had 80 percent or higher seat belt usage rates, while only 52.6 percent of states with secondary enforcement laws had 80 percent or higher seat belt usage rates.5
  • Minnesota adopted a primary seat belt enforcement law in 2009. By the end of 2010, seat belt usage rates increased in the state by nine percentage points compared to 2006 levels.6
  • After Kansas changed its seat belt laws to primary enforcement in 2010, usage rates grew from 77 percent in 2009 to 81.8 percent in 2010. 7
Seat belts decrease the risk of automobile fatalities.8
  • The national seat belt usage rate was 81 percent in 2006, with 42,708 traffic fatalities. By the end of 2010, the seat belt usage rate was 85 percent, with 32,885 traffic fatalities, a 32 percent drop in traffic fatalities.9 


References:

1 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). “Traffic Safety Facts: Crash Stats - Seat Belt Use in 2010.” July 2011.
Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note - Seat Belt Use in 2010.” September 2010.
2 NHTSA. “Traffic Safety Facts: Crash Stats - Seat Belt Use in 2010.” July 2011.
3 NHTSA. “Traffic Safety Facts: Crash Stats - Seat Belt Use in 2010.” July 2011.
Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note - Seat Belt Use in 2010.” September 2010. 
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 NHTSA. “Traffic Safety Facts: Crash Stats - Seat Belt Use in 2010.” July 2011.
7 Ibid.
8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety.
9 NHTSA. “Traffic Safety Facts: Crash Stats - Seat Belt Use in 2010.” July 2011.
NHTSA. “Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) Encyclopedia.” 

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