Seat Belt Safety

Traffic StopOverview

Buckle up, it may save your life.

Traffic-related injuries are the leading cause of all injury deaths in America.

Every nine seconds, someone is injured in a traffic crash and every 13 minutes someone is killed.

Research shows that many part-time and non-belt users fear of a citation and significant fine outweighs their fear of being injured or killed when unbelted in a crash.

Every hour someone dies in America simply because they didn’t buckle up.  Failure to buckle up contributes to more fatalities than any other single traffic safety-related behavior.

Despite terrible traffic problems such as aggressive driving, increasing seat belt use is still the single most effective thing we can do to save lives and reduce injuries on America’s roadways.

Protecting Kids

Adults who don’t buckle up are sending children a deadly message that it is all right not to wear a seat belt.  Children model adult behavior.

Research shows that if a driver is unbuckled, 70 percent of the time children riding in that vehicle won’t be buckled either.

Data suggests that education alone is not doing the job with young people, especially males ages 16 to 25 – the age group least likely to buckle up. They simply do not believe they will be injured or killed. Yet they are the nation’s highest-risk drivers, with more drunk driving, more speeding, and more crashes. Neither education nor fear of injury or death is strong enough to motivate this tough-to-reach group. Rather, it takes stronger seat belt laws and high visibility enforcement campaigns to get them to buckle up.

Saving Lives

Seat belts are the most effective safety devices in vehicles today, estimated to save 9,500 lives each year. Yet only 68 percent of the motor vehicle occupants are buckled. In 1996, more than 60 percent of the occupants killed in fatal crashes were unrestrained.

If 90 percent of Americans buckle up, we will prevent more than 5,500 deaths and 132,000 injuries annually.

Saving DollarsLives Lost Chart

The cost of unbuckled drivers and passengers goes beyond those killed and the loss to their families. We all pay for those who don’t buckle up – in higher taxes, higher health care and higher insurance costs.

On average, inpatient hospital care costs for an unbelted crash victim are 50 percent higher than those for a belted crash victim. Society bears 85 percent of those costs, not the individuals involved. Every American pays about $580 a year toward the cost of crashes. If everyone buckled up, this figure would drop significantly.

By reaching the goal of 90 percent seat belt use, and 25 percent reduction in child fatalities by the year 2005, we will save $8.8 billion annually.

Everyone is Part of the Solution

Buckle Up America is a broad, public-private partnership of community and health groups, safety advocates, businesses, law enforcement, legislators, public officials and concerned citizens. These partners realize that seat belts and child safety seats save lives and money. And because everyone is affected when others ride unbuckled, everyone must be a part of the solution.


States with secondary enforcement laws average only 63 percent belt use. But states with primary (standard) enforcement seat belt laws average 78 percent belt use – 15 percentage points higher. Currently, only 13 states and the District of Columbia have primary seat belt enforcement laws. Everyone would agree that protecting lives with seat belts is at least as important as a broken tail light or littering. Yet, while virtually every state has primary laws that allow law enforcement officers to stop and ticket a violator for having a broken tail light or for tossing trash out the window, not all states have primary laws for seat belt use.

State laws should explicitly require children to be in age- and size-appropriate child safety seats or seat belts. But many states currently have “gaps” in child passenger safety laws – holes that leave certain aged children vulnerable in certain seating positions. States should close these gaps to protect all children in all seating positions.

High Visibility

Enforcement Research shows that high visibility enforcement works because, with many part-time and non-belt users, the fear of a citation and significant fine outweighs their fear of being injured or killed in a crash. When asked whether they support primary enforcement laws – laws that give the police the authority to stop and ticket an unbuckled driver just as they do other routine violations of the law like littering or driving with a broken tail light – the public overwhelming supports stronger laws. (Source: Public Opinion Strategies, July 1997)

During the past four years, when no new state laws were enacted and no widespread enforcement efforts were undertaken, national seat belt use has remained at just under 68 percent. But in those places that implemented high visibility enforcement programs, seat belt use rates increased dramatically.