Study: Looser Seat Belt Laws Lessen Likelihood of Buckling Up

Young motorists are more at risk to be hurt or killed in car crashes when they drive in states with looser enforcement of seat belt laws, according to a recent study from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and insurance carrier State Farm.

Findings from the study, which surveyed 3,126 high school students from across the U.S., quantified differences between the impact of primary and secondary enforcement seat belt laws.

Under primary enforcement, police officers can stop a vehicle and issue a citation for not wearing a seat belt simply because they suspect the driver isn’t using one. Secondary enforcement only allows the officer to do so if the citation is issued in addition to another violation.

Primary Seat Belt Enforcement Encourages Use

Researchers found that a large majority of teenage drivers surveyed, 82 percent, reported regularly using a seat belt behind the wheel while 69 percent said they used them as passengers.

But researchers also found that drivers in states with primary enforcement were 12 percent more likely to use seat belts than those in states with secondary enforcement. Similarly, passengers in primary enforcement states were 15 percent more likely to buckle up as passengers, according to the study.

Researchers also said their findings showed that primary enforcement helps “narrow safety disparity gaps” by increasing seat belt use among specific teen groups with low use rates, including those living in rural areas, students in lower socioeconomic districts and pickup truck drivers.

A 2010 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into strategies of increasing seat belt use identified similar trends. In the findings, researchers grouped states in “top 10,” “middle 31” and “bottom 10” in seat belt use and concluded that: nine of the “top 10” states enforced primary seat belt laws; 15 of 31 states in the middle group had primary enforcement laws; and three of 10 in the bottom grouping had enacted such a law.

Graduated Driver Licensing Key in Cutting Fatality Rates

The study not only suggested that primary enforcement be implemented in more areas but also said it should be integrated into the graduated driver’s license (GDL) laws used in most states. GDL restricts driving privileges of first-time motorists, gradually giving them rights like driving late at night or with passengers as they become more experienced.

CHOP researchers identified a clear drop in belt use in secondary enforcement states as teenagers advanced through GDL programs and gradually moved away from wearing their seat belts.

According to the study, research showing that seat-belted passengers and drivers are killed less often in crashes is irrefutable. Study authors cited NHTSA statistics that show use of seat belts cuts the fatality risk to front seat passengers by 45 percent. Conversely, more than half of young drivers involved in fatal crashes, 56 percent, were not wearing a seat belt.

As such, there is an obligation to push every route of enforcing seat belt use, according to researchers.

“Until all states have a strong primary enforcement belt law, researchers say the burden falls on parents to enforce the buckle up message, as well as on teen drivers to insist their friends use seat belts on every trip,” CHOP researchers stated in a press release.

Adding to the already wide breadth of research into teenagers’ dangerous habits on the road, the latest findings from CHOP and State Farm confirms the view of young drivers that insurance companies often take. Parents know that cheap insurance for young drivers is not widely available. Such insurance policies are scarce because research commonly associates teenagers with riskier roadway behaviors and worse driving outcomes, and most insurance companies respond with higher rates and insurance premiums.

Another study conducted by CHOP researchers and released earlier this month showed that, while the number of teen-involved fatal crashes has dropped, there is an increasing presence of crash-related head injuries. That study also recommended using GDL to combat the problem after concluding that the 12 states that have more comprehensive GDL and evidence-based programs saw a 50 percent reduction over six years in rates of teen fatalities in crashes.

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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