AAA Safety Belt Safety

Seat Belts

Each year about 33,000 people are killed in motor vehicle crashes.  According to NHTSA, car crashes are the leading cause of death for people age 4 and every age 11 through 27 in the U.S.  With 45 to 60 percent effectiveness, seat belts are the single most effective means of reducing the risk of death in a crash and have saved nearly 300,000 lives since 1975 in the U.S. alone.

In 2011, seat belts saved an estimated 11,949 lives.

Buckling up is the most important safety measure you can take to protect yourself in a crash as it helps keep you safe and secure inside your vehicle.  Seat belts are also the best defense against impaired, aggressive, and distracted drivers.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) National Occupant Protection Use Survey, the overall seat belt use rate in 2012 was 85 percent.  Research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used properly, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.

Primary (or “standard”) seat belt laws are very effective in increasing seat belt usage. These laws have been shown to increase a state’s seat belt use rate by an average of 10 percentage points resulting in a decrease of injuries and fatalities.  Currently, there are 33 states and the District of Columbia that have primary seat belt laws on the books.  New Hampshire is the one state that has no seat belt law for people over age 18.  Seat belt laws in the remaining 16 states are secondarily enforced, meaning police officers must stop the vehicle for another violation before they can issue a seat belt ticket.  According to NHTSA, states with primary enforcement laws averaged 88 percent safety belt use while states with secondary enforcement laws averaged about 76 percent use.  Certain high-risk groups (such as teens and drinking drivers) may have lower usage rates.

AAA supports primary seat belt laws as they have been shown to increase seat belt usage, which saves lives, reduces injuries and lowers crash costs to society.   AAA clubs across the country support the passage of these laws at the state level.

AAA State Seat Belt Law Map

* Statistics from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Traffic Safety Facts and National Occupant Protection Use Survey

  • Traffic crashes cost the nation about $230 billion each year in medical expenses, lost productivity, property damage and related costs.
  • In States with primary safety belt laws, law enforcement officers may stop a vehicle and issue a citation when the officer observes an unbelted driver or passenger. Officers in States with secondary enforcement safety belt laws may only write a citation after the officer stops the vehicle or cites the offender for another infraction.
  • States with primary safety belt laws can expect use rates about 12 percentage points higher than States with secondary enforcement laws.

The following 32 states and the District of Columbia have standard seat belt laws: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.

No, research disputes the belief held by some that standard seat belt laws may contribute to the harassment of African Americans. According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, studies of states that changed from a standard to a secondary law found either no difference in the rate of white versus nonwhite ticketing or they found a greater increase in the proportion of whites ticketed after the enactment of a standard law.

No, actually it is an imposition on others’ rights when society is forced to pay more money for the health costs for people who are unrestrained. According to NHTSA, the average charge for an unbelted passenger vehicle to an inpatient facility as a result of a crash injury was over 55 percent greater than the average charge for those who were belted.

Driving on the public roadways is a privilege. Therefore, enforcing the safety belt law in the same manner as other traffic laws does not infringe on a motorist’s liberty. When we share the public roadways and when we expect the assistance of police and other emergency responders, we should be able to have the expectation of each other that we have each taken that simplest and most effective precaution: buckling-up.

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State Traffic Safety Laws: AAA Recommendations

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Distracted Driving Laws

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Speed Limit Laws

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State Occupant Protection Laws

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