Safety Belts and Teens
Teens* have the highest fatality
rate in motor vehicle crashes than any other age group.1 There are many reasons; for instance, while teens are learning
the new skills needed for driving, many frequently engage in high-risk behaviors,
such as speeding and/or driving after using alcohol or drugs. Studies also have
shown that teens may be easily distracted while driving.2 One key reason for high traffic fatalities among this age group
is that they have lower safety belt use rates than adults.3 Because
teens have an increased exposure to potentially fatal traffic crashes, it is
imperative that efforts to increase safety belt use among this age group be
given the highest priority. In addition, the youth population has increased
by more than 12 percent since 1993, and is expected to increase by another seven
percent by 2005.4 As this age group increases as a percentage of the population,
the personal and societal costs associated with deaths and injuries from motor
vehicle crashes also will rise.
Teens Are At Risk
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for 15 to 20
year olds in the United States.5
- In 2001, 5,341 teens were killed in passenger vehicles involved in
motor vehicle crashes. Two thirds of those killed were not buckled up.6
- In 2001, 3,608 drivers 15 to 20 years old were killed in motor vehicle crashes, and
an additional 337,000 were injured.7
- When driver fatality rates are calculated on the basis of estimated
annual travel, teen drivers (16 to 19 years old) have a fatality rate that
is about four times higher than the fatality rate among drivers 25 through
69 years old.8
- Many high school students fail to use their safety belts even when
riding with adults who are buckled up. An observational survey conducted at
12 high schools found that 46 percent of high school students were not wearing
their safety belts when riding with adult drivers. About half of the unbelted
students were riding with adults who
- A recent medical study examined motor vehicle fatality exposure rates
and found that, per mile traveled, African American and Hispanic male teenagers
(13-19 years old) are nearly twice as likely to die in a motor vehicle crash
as male teenagers who are white.10
Male high school students (18 percent) report that they are more
likely to rarely or never use safety belts compared with female high school
students (10 percent).11
Seat Belts Save Lives And Dollars
In 2001, the estimated economic cost of police-reported crashes involving
drivers between 15 and 20 years old was $42.3 billion.7
Safety belts saved more than 12,000 American lives in 2001. Yet,
during that same year, nearly two-thirds (60 percent) of passenger vehicle
occupants killed in traffic crashes were unrestrained.12
Research has shown that lap/shoulder 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. For light truck
occupants, safety belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and
moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent.13
Safety belts should always be worn, even when riding in vehicles
equipped with air bags. Air bags are designed to work with safety belts, not alone.
Air bags, when not used with safety belts, have a fatality-reducing effectiveness
rate of only 12 percent.14
Safety belt usage saves society an estimated $50 billion annually
in medical care, lost productivity, and other injury-related costs.15
Conversely, safety belt nonuse results in significant economic costs to society. The needless
deaths and injuries from safety belt nonuse account for an estimated $26
billion in economic costs to society annually.16 The
cost goes beyond the lost lives of unbuckled drivers and passengers: We
all pay - in higher taxes and higher health care and insurance costs.
Strong Safety Belt Laws Can Make a Difference
Safety Belt Enforcement Programs
- Occupant Protection Selective Traffic Enforcement Programs (sTEPs)
are periods of highly visible safety belt law
enforcement combined with extensive media support. These programs are a proven
method to change motorists’ safety belt use behavior and do it quickly.
Successful Occupant Protection sTEPs have been documented in Canada, Europe,
and the United States.20,
21, 22, 23
- Highly visible enforcement of safety belt laws is at the core of
any plan to increase safety belt use; no State or community has ever achieved
a high safety belt use rate without strong enforcement of such laws. Strong
enforcement of safety belt laws sends the message that the State takes safety
belt use laws seriously. Ultimately, this leads to greater compliance.
- Enforcement of safety belt laws is significantly more effective when
it is combined with media saturation because the perceived risk of receiving
a citation is increased. Research shows that people will buckle up if they
believe the police are enforcing the law.
- The "Click It or Ticket" model has been enormously successful
in increasing safety belt use at the community, State, and regional level.
A "Click It or Ticket Campaign" was fully implemented and evaluated
in 10 States in May 2002. This initiative, which involved a partnership between
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Air Bag &
Seat Belt Safety Campaign, and hundreds of law enforcement agencies, helped
to raise safety belt use an average of nine percentage points among these
10 States. One State, Vermont, experienced a 19 percentage-point increase
in safety belt use as a result of the campaign.
- Many jurisdictions in the United States have adopted graduated licensing,
a system designed to delay full licensure while allowing beginners to obtain
their initial experience under lower risk conditions. There are three stages:
a minimum supervised learner’s period, an intermediate license, and
a full-privilege driver’s license after successful completion of the
first two stages.24 A good graduated licensing system will have education and
enforcement of safety belt laws. For example, in North Carolina, graduated
licensing law includes provisions for fines for up to $100 for safety belt
violations by new drivers.
Many Organizations Support Strong Safety Belt Laws for Teens
Many organizations have partnered with
NHTSA to help increase the safety belt use among teens because they realize
that by doing so, thousands of lives will be saved and millions of injuries
will be prevented. These organizations include:
- 100% Drug Free Clubs
- Advocates for Highway/Auto Safety
- American Automobile Association
- American Driver & Traffic Safety Education Association
- American School Health Association
- Aspira Association, Inc.
- Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety
- Bacchus & Gamma Peer Education Network
- Brain Injury Association
- Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
- Children’s Safety Network
- Circle K International
- Emergency Medical Services for Children
- Emergency Nurses Association
- Family, Career and Community Leaders of America
- Farm Safety 4 Just Kids
- Governors Highway Safety Association
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
- International Association of Campus Law Enforcement
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving
- Maternal & Child Health Bureau
- National Association of School Resource Officers
- National Association of Teen Institutes
- National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
- National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural
Health and Safety
- National Commission Against Drunk Driving
- National Criminal Justice Association
- National Peer Helpers Association
- National Parent Teachers Association
- National SAFE KIDS Campaign
- National Safety Belt Coalition/National Safety Council
- National Student Safety Program
- Network of Employers for Traffic Safety
- Pacific Institute for Underage Drinking Enforcement
- Recording Artists, Actors & Athletes Against Drunk
- RADD Kids/Team RADD
- Remove Intoxicated Drivers
- The State and Territorial Injury Prevention Directors’
- Street Law, Inc.
- Students Against Destructive Decisions
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- Think First Foundation
- United National Indian Tribal Youth
- United States Department of Education
- United States Department of Health and Human Services
- United States Department of Justice
- Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety
- YMCA of the United States of America
- Traffic Safety Facts 2001 (Book), National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 809 484, pg. 21.
- Williams, Alan F. 2001. Teenage Passengers
in Motor Vehicle Crashes: A Summary of Current Research. Insurance Institute
for Highway Safety.
- NHTSA Research Notes, August 2001.
DOT HS 809 318.
- U.S. Census Bureau
- National Center for Health Statistics
of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1999 data.
- Traffic Safety Facts 2001. National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration. DOT HS 809 484. Table 68, pg. 103.
- Traffic Safety Facts 2001. Younger
Driver, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 809 483.
- Traffic Safety Facts 2000. Younger
Driver, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 809 336.
- Status Report, Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety. Volume 37, Number 6, June 2002, page 2.
- Baker, Susan P.; Braver, Elisa R.;
Chen, Li-Hui; Pantula, Janella F.; and Massie, Dawn L. 1998. Motor Vehicle
Occupant Deaths among Hispanic and Black Children and Teenagers. Archives
of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 152:1209-12.
- Teen Drivers. National Center for
Injury Prevention and Control. CDC, 2002. www.cdc.gov/ncipc/factsheets/teenmvh.htm
- Traffic Safety Facts 2001, Overview,
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 809 476, p. 10.
- Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Fatality
and Injury Estimates for 2000, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration,
- Traffic Safety Facts, 2000, Occupant
Protection, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 809 327.
- The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle
Crashes, 2000. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT HS 809
446, p. 55.
- Safety Belt and Helmet Use in 2002
- Overall Results. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. DOT
HS 809 500. September 2002.
- Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey,
2000, Volume Two, p.147. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT
HS 809 389.
- McCartt, A.T., and Shabanova, V.I.
(2002). Teenage Seat Belt Use: White Paper. The National Safety Council’s Air Bag & Seat
Belt Safety Campaign.
- Jonah, B.A., Dawson, N.E., and Smith,
G.A. (1982). Effects of a selective traffic enforcement program on safety
belt usage. Journal of Applied Psychology,
- Williams, A.F., Lund, A.K., Preusser,
D.F., Blomberg, R.D. (1987). Results of a set safety belt use law enforcement
and publicity campaign in Elmira, New York. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 19, 243-249.
- Solomon, M.G., Nissen, W.J., and Preusser,
D.F. (1999). Occupant protection special traffic enforcement program evaluation
(Final Report). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Transportation; National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration, report number DOT HS 808 884.
- Williams, A.F., Wells, J.K., McCartt,
A.T., Preusser, D.F. (2000) "Buckle Up NOW!" an enforcement program
to achieve high safety belt use. Journal of Safety Research,
- Insurance Institute for Highway Safety,
Highway Loss Data Institute, November 2002. www.iihs.org/safety_facts/state_laws/grad_license.htm
*for the purposes of this fact sheet,
the term "teen" refers to young people ages 16-20 unless otherwise
DOT HS 809 578