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Research Update: Seat Belt Use Higher in States and Territories with Primary Seat Belt Enforcement Laws

Beck, LF, Shults, RA. Seat Belt Use in States and Territories with Primary and Secondary Laws—United States, 2006. Journal of Safety Research 2009;40:469-472.

A CDC study published in the December 2009 issue of the Journal of Safety Research found that reports of seat belt use are higher in states and territories with primary seat belt enforcement laws than in those with secondary seat belt laws. Primary seat belt laws allow for a motorist to be stopped and cited simply for not wearing a seat belt, while secondary laws only allow a motorist to be cited for not wearing a seatbelt if he or she has been stopped for another offense.

The study found that reported use of seat belts was higher in states and territories with primary enforcement laws in effect (86% seat belt use) compared to those with secondary enforcement laws (76% seat belt use). This supports the claim that primary enforcement laws are a more effective strategy than secondary laws in encouraging people to wear seatbelts. 

Seat belt use ranged by state and territory from 58% in North Dakota and South Dakota to 92% in California. California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington all showed self-reported seat belt use greater than 90%. The 15 states and territories with the highest levels of seat belt use all had primary enforcement laws. In contrast, 14 of the 15 states with the lowest levels of seat belt use had secondary enforcement or no seat belt laws.

Seat belt use is a highly effective strategy in preventing deaths and injuries in motor vehicle crashes. In 2007, seatbelts saved an estimated 15,000 lives. Though seat belt use has increased over the years, there is room for improvement.

Prevalence of Seat Belt Use by State, District, and Territory [185KB, 1 page] A chart of self-reported seat belt use and type of enforcement law in place in all states and territories.


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