New Study Finds Seat Belt Use Up to 85 Percent Nationally

Almost 6 out of 7 U.S. drivers surveyed report that they always wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a motor vehicle, according to a study released today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seat belt use has become the national norm in most states, though rates of self-reported seat belt use vary widely from state to state, with a high of 94 percent (Oregon) and a low of 59 percent (North Dakota).

Still, every 14 seconds, an adult in the United States is treated in an emergency department for crash-related injuries.

“A simple step that most drivers and passengers in the United States already take—buckling their seat belts—cuts in half the chance of being seriously injured or killed in a crash,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. “Yet, about 1 in 7 adults do not wear a seat belt on every trip. If everyone in the vehicle buckled up every time, we could further reduce one of the leading causes of death.”

The study found that states with primary seat belt enforcement laws, where police officers can pull cars over and issue tickets solely because drivers and passengers are unbelted, have higher rates of seat belt use than states with secondary enforcement laws, which only allow officers to issue tickets to drivers who have been pulled over for violating another law. States with primary enforcement laws had an overall seat belt use rate of 88 percent, whereas states with secondary enforcement laws had an overall seat belt use rate of 79 percent. The national average for seat belt use is 85 percent.

If the secondary law states had achieved 88 percent belt use in 2008, it would have resulted in an additional 7.3 million adults buckling up.

Though 1 in 3 U.S. adults lived in states with secondary enforcement laws in 2008, residents of these states accounted for 49 percent of the unbelted drivers and passengers on U.S. roads. Nineteen states do not have primary enforcement seat belt laws.

“As seatbelt use increases and more states pass primary enforcement laws, we are seeing crash-related injuries decline,” said Linda Degutis, Dr. PH, MSN, director of CDC’s Injury Center. “This indicates that primary enforcement laws, paired with vigorous enforcement programs, get more people to wear seat belts. We know that buckling up can make a life-saving difference.”