Mandatory Seatbelt Laws Work

Date Published: 
Fri, 01/01/2010

Advocates for Highway Safety. January 2010. 

"Buckling Up" is a factsheet devoted to showing us the effectiveness of seatbelts: lap-to-shoulder seatbelts reduced the fatal injury risk in passenger car accidents by 45 percent, and in light truck accidents by 60 percent. In 2008,  it is estimated that seatbelts saved the lives of 13,250 people older than four, and if everyone involved in a fatal crash had been wearing a seatbelt, a further 4,152 lives could have been saved.

State primary enforcement laws, which enable officers to ticket offenders for not wearing a seatbelt, have a profound impact as well. “By just enacting a primary enforcement seat belt law, usage rates rise 10-15 percentage points”: Michigan experienced a 14 point bump in seat belt use after passing a primary enforcement law (2000), California saw a 12 point increase (1993), with most other laws experiencing similar success. In 1984, the year of the primary enforcement law’s passage, New York’s use rate was a miserable 11 percent. But 15 years later, in 1999, the use rate stood at a respectable 76 percent. (Fines tend to be quite small, ranging from $5 in Idaho to $75 in Oregon, although the most common is the $20-$25 range.)