Seat Belt Use Remains Higher In States With Stricter Laws on Seat Belt Use

Recently the United States Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a Traffic Safety Facts – Research Note on the topic of seat belts. It reported that nationally in 2013 seat belt use reached 87%. This was up from 86% in 2012, but considered statistically insignificant. The data used in the research note was gathered from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS) which is conducted annually by National Center for Statistics and Analysis of the National Highway Traffic. It is the only probability-based nationwide survey, conducted annually, which reports on seat belt use. The NHTSA was established Highway Safety Act of 1970 as the successor to the National Highway Safety Bureau is a part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Among its other tasks it collects and publishes statistics and studies on highway and vehicle safety.

seatbelt.jpgCritically, the survey showed that since 1995 there has been an upward trend in seatbelt use. In 1995 only 60 percent of vehicle passengers and drivers wore a seatbelt regularly. This upward trend directly mirrors a decrease in daytime percent of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities. Or put more simply as the rate of people wearing seatbelts increased the number of fatal accidents occurring during the day involving people not wearing seatbelts decreased.

Also of note was that in 2013 the number of people wearing seat belts in heavy traffic increased from 89 % in 2012 to 90 % in 2013, an increased deemed statistically significant. This also implies that people are more likely to be wearing a seatbelt when they are driving in heavy traffic. Also of note was that seat belt use in the Northeast increased by four percent from 80% in 2012 to 84% in 2013, while remaining well under the national average of 87%. The highest rates of seat belt use were in the Northwest with a 93 % rate of use.

The survey also found a direct correlation between states with seatbelt laws and those without and between states where a car can be pulled over solely for not using seat belts (“primary law States”) as compared with the States with weaker enforcement laws (“secondary law States”) or without seat belt laws. In primary law States a vehicle can be pulled over and ticketed only for the driver or passengers not wearing a seat belt, while in secondary law States the driver or passengers may be ticketed but only after the vehicle is pulled over for another reason such as speeding or having expired tags. States with primary law States saw an average usage rate of 91 % while states without any seat belt laws had an average usage rate of only 80 %.

As of May, 2013, 32 states, and the Distinct of Columbia, had primary laws regarding seat belt use, 17 had secondary laws while only one state, New Hampshire, as of May, 2013, had no laws regarding seat belts. At that time in New Hampshire it was legal for all occupants over the age of 18 to not wear a seatbelt.

New York State is a primary law state with laws requiring the use of seat belts, meaning that in New York State a vehicle may be pulled over only for the failure of its driver and or occupants to wear a seat belt. New York State’s Occupant Restraint Law requires seat belts for adults riding in motor vehicles and other types of restraints, including booster seats, for children riding in motor vehicles. Front seat passengers over 16 may be fined 50 dollars for not wearing a seat belt. There are additional regulations for those driving or riding in a car driven by a driver holding a learners license. The driver is responsible for ensuring his or her passengers comply with the law and he or she may be levied an additional fine plus points on his or license for failure to comply.

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