The 2003 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey was the fifth in a series of biennial national telephone surveys on occupant protection issues conducted for NHTSA. Data collection was conducted by Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas, Inc., a national survey research organization. The survey used two questionnaires, each administered to a randomly selected national sample of about 6,000 persons age 16 or older. Interviewing began January 8, 2003 and ended March 30, 2003.

  • This report presents the detailed information on the survey methodology, as well as copies of the questionnaires.
  • This report presents the survey findings pertaining to safety belts. The passenger car remains the most common primary vehicle driven by adults (59%), although the percentage has continued to drop as SUVs (13%) have increased in frequency. he passenger car remains the most common primary vehicle driven by adults (59%), although the percentage has continued to drop as SUVs (13%) have increased in frequency. The predominant type of safety belt in the front seat of vehicles is the one-piece manual lap and shoulder system (80%). Drivers increasingly are reporting that they have adjustable shoulder belts (52%). Eighty-four percent of drivers said they wore their safety belt “all of the time” while driving, but 7% of those immediately said that they did not use a safety belt while driving at least once in the past day or week. Reported belt use traditionally is higher than observed belt use, although the demographic patterns tend to be the same. Reported safety belt use was lower among males, drivers age 16-24, drivers in rural areas, pickup truck drivers, drivers who engage in other risky driving behaviors, and drivers in secondary enforcement States. Drivers most often cited injury avoidance as their most important reason for using safety belts (66%). Part-time belt users substantially outnumbered those who reported never wearing safety belts, and their primary reasons for non-use were driving just a short distance and forgetting. Eighty-eight percent of the public favored laws that require drivers and front seat passengers to wear safety belts, 64% favored standard enforcement and 65% favored fines for drivers who do not wear safety belts.
  • This report presents the survey findings pertaining to air bags. The percentage of drivers with air bags in their primary vehicles has continued to increase. In 2003, 77% reported air bags in their primary vehicles, compared to 67% in 2000. The vast majority of the public (95%) understood that safety belts still needed to be worn even when the vehicle they were riding in had an air bag. Forty-three percent of the public had concerns about the safety of air bags. Despite the concerns, 83% of the public would prefer both driver and passenger air bags in their next vehicle, compared to 9% who would prefer not to have air bags in their next vehicle and 4% who were unsure what they would prefer.
  • This report presents the survey findings pertaining to crash injury and emergency medical services. Nearly three-in-ten persons age 16 and older (27.4%) reported having been injured in a vehicle crash where they required medical attention. Approximately 16% of the total population, age 16 and older, has received injuries from motor vehicle crashes severe enough to prevent them from performing some of their normal activities for at least a week. Persons not wearing a safety belt at the time of the (most recent) crash were about twice as likely to be hospitalized from the crash-related injuries as those wearing safety belts. People have more concerns about stopping at the scene of a vehicle crash in 2003. However, virtually everyone said that they would call for help in situations where it was too dangerous to stop and provide assistance. The proportion of drivers who have a wireless phone with them when they drive has continued to increase.
  • This report presents the survey findings pertaining to child restraint use. Among drivers who lived with children age 12 or younger, most indicated that the youngest child typically rode in the back seat. Parents/caregivers of children under the age of 9 usually said the (referent) child either used a child car seat all the time (60%) or never (32%). If the child never used a car seat, it usually was because the child had graduated to safety belt use. However, 29% of the children who never used a car seat but wore safety belts said the shoulder belt cut across their face or neck on most trips, 25% usually put the shoulder belt behind their back, and 17% put the shoulder belt under their arm. Most children ages 6 through 8 discontinued using child car seats (including booster seats). Although booster seats are recommended for most children ages 4 through 8, the survey found only 21% of children in that age range using them and another 19% using front-facing child safety seats. While most parents/caregivers (85%) had heard of booster seats, 22% of these had concerns about their safety.