Research Update: Seat Belt Use Increases in Rural Areas with Primary Seat Belt Enforcement Laws
Strine TW, Beck LF, Bolen J, Okoro C, Dhingra S, Balluz L. Geographic and sociodemographic variation in self-reported seat belt use in the United States. Accident Analysis & Prevention 2010 July; 42(4): 1066-71. Epub 2010 Jan 4.
Motor vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 5 to 34. Consistent use of seat belts is the most effective way to reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and deaths. A CDC study published in the July 2010 issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention reports that Americans living in rural areas of states or territories with primary seat belt enforcement laws are more likely to say they consistently wear seat belts than those living in rural areas of states with secondary or no seat belt laws.
Primary seat belt laws allow police to stop and ticket a driver for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense taking place. Secondary seat belt laws allow police to issue a seat belt citation only when the driver has been stopped for another citable traffic offense.
Researchers examined the influence of population density and type of seat belt law (primary vs. secondary) on self-reported seat belt use. They found that as locations became more rural, the number of Americans who reported always wearing a seat belt decreased. Across all levels of population density, however, seat belt use was higher in states and territories with primary seat belt laws compared to those with secondary or no seat belt laws. While seat belt use has been shown to be lower in rural areas, the presence of primary seat belt laws increases seat belt use in even the most rural areas.
- 87.4 percent of people living in metropolitan counties (population of 1 million or more) reported always wearing seat belts.
- 68.3 percent of people in rural counties (population of less than 2,500, non-adjacent to metropolitan areas) reported always wearing seat belts.
- In the most rural counties, seat belt use varied by type of seat belt law. Specifically, seat belt use was significantly higher in counties with primary seat belt legislation (77.5 percent) versus counties with secondary seat belt legislation (60.3 percent).
- The West had the highest prevalence of people who reported always wearing a seat belt (89.6 percent), while the Midwest had the lowest (80.4 percent).
This latest research shows a direct connection between the area in which a person lives (rural vs. metropolitan) and the likelihood of seat belt use, with seat belt use generally decreasing as the size of the metropolitan area decreases. The study reinforces the evidence that primary seat belt laws are effective for increasing seat belt use. The findings also suggest that upgrading to primary seat belt enforcement laws is an important strategy for reducing crash-related deaths in rural areas. In January 2010, only 31 states; Washington, D.C.; Guam; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands had primary seat belt laws. The remaining states had secondary laws or, in the case of New Hampshire, no seat belt law.
To learn more about these recommendations and the importance of seat belt use, please visit http://www.thecommunityguide.org/mvoi/safetybelts/index.html.
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