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Seat Belt and Child Safety Seat Use Outside the United States

Many other countries have seat belt use rates significantly higher than the United States. For example, use rates in Canada, Australia, and several Western European countries exceed 90 percent, while use rates in Great Britain exceed 80 percent. Seat belt use laws in these countries typically allow primary (standard) enforcement and also cover occupants of light trucks and vans in addition to automobiles. Fines for noncompliance are generally higher than in the United States, and some jurisdictions assess demerit points against driver's licenses for seat belt use law violations. In contrast, except for the District of Columbia, states in the U.S. do not assess penalty points for adult seat belt use violations.

In Europe, some countries (Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) have laws that permit child passengers in the front seat provided they are in a child safety seat or seat belt. This approach is typical of state laws in the U.S. Other European countries (Belgium, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Spain) have child passenger safety laws that require children up to a specified age and weight to ride in the rear seat. However, some of these countries have exemptions to these laws that permit children to ride in front passenger seating positions provided they are in a child safety seat or seat belt. Foreign child passenger safety laws are often "nationwide" as opposed to state-by-state as they are in the U.S.

Belt use rates in Canada and the U.S. did not differ markedly until the mid-1980s, when Canadian provinces began implementing comprehensive special traffic enforcement programs (STEPs). These highly publicized enforcement efforts achieved belt use rates in the 80 percent range. When Canada decided to establish a national 95 percent seat belt use goal, provinces amended their laws to add driver license penalty points. With these penalty point provisions, seat belt use in Canada has risen to 92 percent for drivers and 90 percent for front seat passengers.