Primary Enforcement of Seat Belt Use Laws

WHEREAS the effectiveness of occupant restraint devices of various types and for different age groups in reducing death and injuries has been documented worldwide,

WHEREAS there is a strong correlation between the restraint use of children and the driver of the vehicle,

WHEREAS states with primary seat belt use laws have an nine to 13 percent higher usage rate than states without primary use laws,

WHEREAS restraint system usage in the United States, while steadily increasing, still trails the usage rates in other industrialized countries where strict and routine enforcement is carried out,

BE IT RESOLVED that the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine supports the immediate implementation of primary enforcement of occupant restraint use laws for all seating positions and all ages in all states.

Adopted: September 2003, updated October 2017

PRIMARY ENFORCEMENT OF SEAT BELT USE LAWS: BACKGROUND INFORMATION

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belts are the most effective safety device in vehicles, and as of 2009, their increasing use has saved more the 255,000 lives since 1975.[1]  In 2015, seat belt usage in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 13,941 lives of occupants aged five and older.[2]  In 2016, seat belt use in the United States was about 90 percent.[3]

Primary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officials to pull over and cite motorists for not using seat belts.  A secondary law only allows usage citations for motorists pulled over for other infractions.[4]

A law’s effectiveness is also related to the rate of its enforcement, but higher seat belt usage rates have been consistently observed in states with primary seat belt laws.  In 2015, seat belt usage in States with primary enforcement laws was 12.6% higher than in States with secondary enforcement laws, and in 2016, that difference was 9.1%.[5]  As of 2016, 34 States and the District of Columbia had primary enforcement laws for front row occupants, while 15 States had secondary enforcement laws, and one State (New Hampshire) had no seat belt requirements for occupants over the age of 18.[6]  According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), as of 2017, 32 states did not have primary seat belt enforcement laws for all seating positions.[7]

Lower seat belt usage has a real effect on injury outcomes in crashes; seat belts reduce crash-related serious injuries and fatalities by approximately 50%.[8]  In 2015, 22,441 passenger vehicle occupants were killed and 2,181,000 passenger vehicle occupants were injured.[9]

Restraint usage rates of fatally injured child passengers and their drivers are strongly correlated.  Child passengers are far more likely to be unrestrained if their driver is unrestrained,[10] and similarly, child passengers are far more likely to be restrained if their driver is restrained.[11]

REFERENCES

[1] Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  Traffic Safety Facts:  Occupant Protection.  Washington, DC:  NHTSA, 2009.

[2] Department of Transporation, National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA).  Lives saved in 2015 by restraint use and minimum drinking age laws.  Washington, DC:  NCSA, 2016.

[3] Department of Transportation, NHTSA.  Traffic Safety Facts:  Research Note.  Washington, DC:  NHTSA, 2016.

[4] NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, 2016.

[5] NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, 2016.

[6] NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, 2016.

[7] Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).  State Laws:  Safety Belts – Safety Belts and Child Safety Seats.  Arlington, VA:  IIHS, 2017.

[8] Kahane CJ.  Fatiliaty reduction by safety belts for front-seat occupants of cars and light trucks:  updated and expanded estimates based on 1986-99 FARS data.  DOT Report HS-809-199.  Washington, DC:  NHTSA, 2000.

[9] Department of Transportation, NHTSA.  Traffic Safety Facts:  2015 Data.  Washington, DC:  NHTSA, 2017.

[10] Starnes M.  The relationship between driver and child passenger restraint use among fatally injured child passengers age 0-15.  Washington, DC:  NCSA, 2003.

[11] Starnes M.  The relationship between driver and child passenger restraint use among infants and toddlers.  Washington, DC:  NCSA, 2003.