Road Management & Engineering Journal
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Standard Safety Belt Enforcement
(The following article is reproduced, with permission, from the web site of the Advocates for Highway and
Auto Safety at http://www.saferoads.org/.)
In 1997, nearly 42,000 people were killed in traffic crashes and almost 3.4 million more
were injured, at a cost of over $150 billion. Safety belt use, reinforced by effective
safety belt laws, is a proven life saver.
All states except one have safety belt use laws, but only 14 states and the District of
Columbia had standard enforcement of their belt laws as of early 1999. In states with
standard enforcement, law officers may ticket a non-belt user when they see a violation
of the safety belt law. With secondary enforcement, officers may issue a citation only
after stopping the vehicle for another traffic infraction.
Safety belt use is significantly higher in states with standard enforcement compared to
those with secondary enforcement laws. Research shows that when adults buckle up,
children get buckled up too. Standard 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.
Safety Belt and Child Safety Seat Facts
- Lap-shoulder belts are 40-50% effective in reducing deaths and 45-55%
effective in preventing moderate-to-critical injuries to passenger vehicle
occupants. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
- Safety belts are credited with saving the lives of 10,750 passenger
vehicle occupants in 1997. (NHTSA)
- Average inpatient costs for traffic crash victims who did not use safety
belts were 55 percent higher than for victims who were belted. (NHTSA)
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children from
age 5 to 16 years. In 1997, 2,087 children under age 16 died in traffic
crashes and another 320,000 were injured. (NHTSA)
- Six out of ten children who die in passenger vehicle crashes are unbelted.
- When properly used, child safety seats reduce the risk of death by 69%
for infants and by 47% for toddlers. (NHTSA)
- From 1975 through 1997, an estimated 3,894 children's lives were saved
by safety belts and child safety seats. (NHTSA)
Standard Enforcement Law Facts
- In 1997, the average national safety belt use rate was 69%. (NHTSA)
- The average safety belt use rate in states with standard enforcement is
17 percentage points higher than in states with secondary enforcement.
- Adult safety belt use is the best predictor of child occupant restraint use.
A driver who is buckled up is three times more likely to restrain a child
passenger than one who is not buckled. (Journal Pediatrics, Vol.
102, No. 3, September 1998)
- When Louisiana adopted its standard enforcement law, child restraint use
jumped from 45 to 82 percent even though there was no change in the
state's child passenger safety law. (NHTSA)
- Although concerns have been raised by some that standard enforcement
could lead to police harassment of minorities, in surveys conducted in
California and Louisiana shortly after they upgraded to standard
enforcement, neither Hispanics (California) nor African Americans
(Louisiana) reported receiving a greater number of safety belt citations
than the public as a whole. (NHTSA)
- African-American men are less likely to buckle up than their white and
Hispanic counterparts (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),
putting them at greater risk of dying in a crash. But research shows that
for African American men age 18-29, belt use is significantly higher in
standard enforcement states than in secondary law states: 58 versus
46.1 percent. (Amer. Journ. of Public Health, Vol. 88, No. 2, Feb.
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