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Directions in Highway Safety Cover - Summer 2012 Download Newsletter pdf
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Summer 2012

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States with Tougher Laws Have Higher Teen Seat Belt Use

New research co nducted by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm™ shows that new teen drivers from states with primary enforcement seat belt laws are more likely to buckle up than those from states with secondary laws.

Primary laws allow an officer to stop a vehicle and issue a citation whenever an unbelted driver or passenger is observed. Secondary laws permit seat belt citations only after an officer stops the offender for another violation, such as speeding. Currently, 32 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have primary seat belt laws.

The study, “Safety Belt Laws and Disparities in Safety Belt Use Among US High-School Drivers,” is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers noticed that seat belt use rates differed depending on the stages of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL), especially in secondary enforcement states. Teen drivers in the learner’s permit stage had belt use in the 80th percentile, regardless of the type of law. However, use decreased substantially among teens with provisional and unrestricted licenses in secondary enforcement states, dropping from 82 percent for teens with learner’s permits to 69 percent for those with provisional or unrestricted licenses. In primary enforcement states, use remained relatively steady when teens went from the learner to the intermediate stage (88 percent versus 82 percent).

Specific groups of teens were found to have particularly low seat belt use, particularly: those living in rural areas; African-Americans; students with low grades or attending schools in lower socioeconomic districts; and pickup truck drivers. Belt use was higher among these groups in primary enforcement states, which demonstrates that primary enforcement laws can help narrow safety disparity gaps.

Researchers recommend that parents step up to reinforce the importance of wearing a seat belt, regardless of the law and suggest that teen drivers require their friends use seat belts on every trip.

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