Buckling Up

Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Laws

 

In 2011, 52% of passenger vehicle occupants killed in traffic crashes were not wearing seat belts.[1] Seat belt use, reinforced by effective safety belt laws, is a proven lifesaver.

All states except one have seat belt use laws, but only 32 states (AL, AK, AR, CA, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MI, MN, MS, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OK, OR, RI, SC, TN, TX, WA and WI) and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement of their belt laws. In states with primary enforcement, law officers may ticket a non-belt user when they see a violation of the seat belt law. With secondary enforcement laws, officers may issue a citation only after stopping the vehicle for another traffic infraction.

Seat belt use is higher in states with primary enforcement laws compared to those with secondary enforcement laws or without seat belt laws.[2] Primary enforcement is important not only for raising adult safety belt use, but also for increasing the number of children who are protected by occupant restraints. In 2011, children, under the age of eight, being driven by a belted driver had a higher belts use rate (95 percent) than children being driven by an unbelted driver (67 percent).[3]

Seat Belt Facts

 

·         Lap-shoulder belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat car occupants by 45% and the risk of moderate to critical injuries by 50%. For light truck occupants, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60% and moderate-to-critical injury by 65%. (NHTSA, 2012)[4]

·         Nationwide seat belts saved an estimated 11,949 lives age five and older in 2011.  An additional 3,384 lives could have been saved if all passenger vehicle occupants had worn seat belts.  (NHTSA, 2012)[5]

·         According to an April 2009 study by the Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation, needless deaths and injuries that result from non-use of seat belts cost society an estimated $60 billion annually in medical care, lost productivity and other injury related costs.[6]

·         In 2011, there were 274 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities among children age 4 and younger and of those, where restraint use was known, 30% were totally unrestrained.[7]

·         The average inpatient costs for crash victims who don’t use seat belts are 55 percent higher than for those who use them.[8]

·         Regarding personal choice and individual rights in relation to highway safety laws, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts held in a decision affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court that , “…from the moment of injury, society picks the person up off the highway; delivers him to a municipal hospital and municipal doctors; provides him with unemployment compensation if, after recovery, he cannot replace his lost job; and, if the injury causes disability, may assume the responsibility for his and his family’s continued subsistence.”[9]

 

Primary Enforcement Law Facts

 

·      States that have passed a primary enforcement law have seen dramatic increases in belt use rates.  In 2012, states with primary enforcement seat belt laws had a use rate of 90%, while states with secondary enforcement laws or without seat belt laws had a seat belt use rate of 78%.[10]

·      If every state with a secondary seat belt law upgraded to primary enforcement, about 1,000 lives and $4 billion in crash costs could be saved every year.[11]

·     Minnesota changed its seat belt law to primary enforcement in 2009 and the state’s Department of Public Safety found that the upgrade resulted in higher seat belt use and fewer unbelted deaths.  The state saw its seatbelt usage rate jump to nearly 93% from 87% and a drop in unbelted deaths from 150 fatalities in 2008 to 120 deaths in 2011.[12] 

·     In 2009, Wisconsin upgraded its seat belt law to primary enforcement and the state’s Department of Transportation determined that Wisconsin’s seat belt use rate increased to nearly 80% in 2011, an upgrade of eight percent.[13]

 Click here for more information about federal activity related to motor vehicle safety. 

Click here for the fact sheet on Primary Enforcement Laws.

Click here for more information about state legislative activity related to Safety Belt Laws.


[1]   Traffic Safety Facts: 2011 Data Occupant Protection, percentage reported for fatal passenger vehicle occupants with known belt-use, NHTSA, April 2013, DOT HS 811 729, available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811729.pdf.

[2]   Traffic Safety Facts Research Note: Seat Belt Use in 2012 – Overall Results, November 2012, DOT HS 811 691, available at www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/communications/pdf/811691.pdf

[3]   Occupant Restraint Use in 2011: Results from the national Occupant Protection Use Survey Controlled Intersection Study, NHTSA Jan. 2013, DOT HS 811 697, available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811697.pdf.

[4]   Traffic Safety Facts: 2011 Data Occupant Protection, NHTSA, April 2013, DOT HS 811 729, available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811729.pdf.

[5]   Traffic Safety Facts: Crash Stats Lives Saved in 2011 by Restraint Use and Minimum Age Drinking Laws, NHTSA, December 2012, DOT HS 811 702, available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811702.pdf.

[5]  Miller, Ted R.Ph.D. & Zaloshnja, Eduard, Ph.D., “On a Crash Course: The Dangers and Health Costs of Deficient Roadways,” Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, commissioned by The Transportation Construction Coalition, at 7, May 2009, available at http://www.pire.org/documents/PireStudyLowRes.pdf.

[7]   Traffic Safety Facts 2011 Data: Children, NHTSA. July 2012, DOT HS 811 767, available at http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811767.pdf.

[8] Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System (CODES) Project Seat Belt and Helmet Analysis, Research Note (Revised), National Center for Statistics and Analysis, NHTSA, February 15, 1996. http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/96842.pdf.

[9]   Simon v. Sargent, D.C.Mass.1972, 346 F.Supp. 277, affirmed 93 S.Ct. 463, 409 U.S. 1020, 34 L.Ed.2d 312.

[10] Traffic Safety Facts Research Note: Seat Belt Use in 2012 – Overall Results, November 2012, DOT HS 811 691, available at www.nhtsa.gov/staticfiles/communications/pdf/811691.pdf

[11] The Nation’s Top Strategies to Stop impaired Driving: Primary Seat Belt Laws, NHTSA, available at http://www.nhtsa.gov/people/injury/alcohol/StrategiesStopID/pages/PrimarySBL.html.

[12] Minnesota motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2008, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 2009, available at https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/reports-statistics/Documents/CRASH-FACTS-2008.pdf; and Minnesota motor Vehicle Crash Facts 2011, Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 2012, available at https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/educational-materials/Documents/CRASH-FACTS-2011.pdf.

[13] April 2013 MAPSS Performance Improvement Report: Mobility Accountability Preservation Safety Service, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, April 2013, available at http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/about/performance/docs/perf-report.pdf

 

 

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