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Directions in Highway Safety, Summer 2008 Cover Page Download Newsletter pdf
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Late Winter 2008 | Vol. 10 | No. 4

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New Report Examines the Impact of Efforts to Increase Safety Belt Use

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) recently issued Report 601: The Impact of Legislation, Enforcement, and Sanctions on Safety Belt Use. The report examines the effectiveness of each of these strategies in increasing safety belt use and concludes that all three have had some positive impact.

Legislation has substantially increased safety belt use (SBU) across the country. States with primary enforcement laws have seen the greatest increase in usage. Early laws affected lower-risk groups such as urban, female adult motorists. The 18 states that upgraded their secondary laws to primary from January 1993 through February 2007 had a median 13 to 16 percentage point increase in observed SBU. The report states that future upgrades from secondary to primary enforcement would likely result in 4% to 5% fewer deaths and 6% fewer moderate-to-serious injuries, saving states an average of $138 million each.

High visibility enforcement (HVE) has been "consistently associated with large and significant increased in observed usage." A review of more than 25 local HVE programs showed a median SBU increase of about 13 percentage points. The 1993 North Carolina benchmark program is cited as an especially effective state program, increasing observed SBU by 16 points.

Man Buckling Up

The impact of sanctions, such as fines or points on a driver's license, has not been as thoroughly examined as legislation and enforcement. However, the report notes that early research demonstrated a positive relationship between the amount of a fine and SBU among crash victims. This impact was greater in primary law states. The report authors suggest that increased penalties would result in increased SBU. Likewise, publicized increases in sanctions would complement and enhance the effectiveness of both legislative upgrades (from secondary to primary) and HVE efforts.

The report notes that nationwide SBU of above 80% may make it difficult to demonstrate additional impact. However, comparing observed rates and Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) rates shows that there is still room for improvement, especially among high-risk occupants involved in potentially fatal crashes. In the report's Foreword, TRB Staff Officer Charles W. Niessner writes ". many high-risk motorists, including drinking drivers, motorists on the road during late-night hours, young males, drivers with violations and crashes on their record, and occupants involved in fatal crashes still do not buckle up. Future efforts to reduce fatalities and injuries involving unrestrained occupants will need to focus on such high-risk motorists."

Copies of the report are available at