Primary safety belt laws have a proven track record of increasing a State’s safety belt use rate. As stated in Section I, in 2005, the average safety belt use rate in States with primary enforcement laws was 10 percentage points higher than in States without primary enforcement laws. Safety belt use was 85 percent in primary law States versus 75 percent in States without primary enforcement.7
When States upgrade their laws from secondary to primary, significant increases in safety belt use are often observed. For example, when Delaware and Illinois upgraded their secondary safety belt laws to primary laws in 2003, the safety belt use rate in Delaware rose from 71 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2003 and the safety belt use rate in Illinois rose from 74 percent in 2002 to 80 percent in 2003.8
Forty-nine States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia now have safety belt use laws, but only half provide for primary enforcement procedures, as reflected on the map below. Currently, 25 States plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have enacted primary safety belt laws. Although increases in belt use have been made without a primary safety belt use law, the greatest gains are possible when a primary law works in conjunction with enforcement, education, and partnership initiatives. Passing primary safety belt use laws in every State would unquestionably save thousands of lives and prevent tens of thousands of injuries each year.
A primary enforcement law enhances the perceived importance of safety belt use by both the public and the law enforcement community. This enhanced perception ultimately leads to greater compliance.
Primary enforcement sends a clear message that the State views safety belt use (and the safety belt law) as essential for the safe operation of a motor vehicle. Increasing adult belt use also has a significant impact on child passenger safety, because drivers who wear safety belts are more likely to restrain their child passengers. This is confirmed by recent research conducted by NHTSA on occupant protection use in passenger vehicles from 1995 to 2004 that showed the following9:
Virtually all traffic safety laws—and other laws, for that matter—are primary, except secondary enforcement safety belt use laws. In attitude surveys, officers consistently preferred primary laws and report that a secondary enforce-ment law is a major deterrent to issuing citations.10
In addition to increasing the perceived importance of safety belt use among law enforcement officers, upgrading a secondary law can enhance law enforcement efforts in another way. When law enforcement officers stop vehicles for traffic law violations, in this case, failure to use a safety belt, they may discover additional traffic or criminal violations that would otherwise go undetected. A minor traffic violation was the reason Timothy McVeigh, later convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing, was initially stopped by police.
Abundant research has shown that an upgrade to primary enforcement will significantly raise belt use rates when combined with educa-tion and adjudication.11 Those not in the habit of buckling up must be informed of the law and its consequences, persuaded of the value of safety belt use, and convinced that authorities are serious about enforcement.
A good example of how this combination can work took place when Washington State enacted its primary enforcement law in 2002. Prior to the effective date of June 13, the State participated in the national Memorial Day Click it or Ticket (CIOT) program during May and June and continued CIOT efforts into the summer months of 2002. In a study titled, “Analysis of the Impact of Washington State’s Primary Seat Belt Law and Click It or Ticket on Restraint Use in Passenger Vehicle Fatalities, 2002,”12 researchers found that safety belt use for both drivers and passengers increased; however, the researchers attribute higher use rates among drivers to CIOT messages that were specifically tailored to drivers in the under-20 age group. This group improved the most, with an increase in safety belt use of 29.9 percent, followed by drivers in the 34-44 age group, who experienced a 28.3-percent increase in belt use. (Additional information on CIOT can be found in the section below, “Click It or Ticket − A Combination of Public Education and Enforcement that Works.”)
Referenced in this study was another research paper13 in which key results of a 2002-2003 analysis of the impact of Washington’s primary law showed increases in safety belt use and a 13.4-percent decrease in motor vehicle occupant fatalities compared to the average yearly totals for the six years before the law’s enactment.
As the Washington State example shows, to realize the full benefits of a primary law, enforcement must be highly visible and combined with extensive public education. Whenever possible, public education messages should call attention to the law and ongoing enforcement activities. However, other complementary messages can also be used, as follows.
Our children and young people are paying the price. Traffic-related injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults in the age group 4 through 34.14 And adult behavior affects children; properly belted adults are positive role models for children who will soon be making buckle-up decisions themselves.
Society is paying the price. Traffic crashes result in $230.6 billion in economic costs, including $32.6 billion in medical care and emergency services expenses, and $120 billion in lost productivity and property loss. Such costs are passed on to consumers so that every person in America shares the economic costs of motor vehicle crashes, the equivalent of over $200 in added taxes for every household in the United States. Eighty-five percent of all medical costs incurred by crash victims fall on society, not the individuals involved. Medicare, Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded sources pay 24 percent of these costs. When crash victims are unbuckled, their medical treatment costs are 50 percent higher. (All numbers cited are based on 2000 data.)16
Businesses are paying the price. Employers are hit especially hard. NHTSA estimates that crashes on and off the job cost American businesses an estimated $61 billion through lost productivity and other costs; motor vehicle crashes imposed a $16.3 billion health-related fringe benefit bill for employers. Employer health care (medical) cost of crash injuries was $7.7 billion. Another $8.6 billion was spent on sick leave and life and disability insurance for crash victims.17
Adjudication, the legal assessment of an appropriate fine, is a critical element of a primary safety belt use law. To be effective, the language of a safety belt use law must be clear and penalties must be strong enough to have a deterrent effect. The table below addresses penalties, along with “Other Key Provisions Every State Safety Belt Law Needs.”
Support for upgrading to primary enforcement can be found throughout the community, both from traditional safety, law enforcement, and health organizations and from nontraditional groups in such fields as education and business. See Appendix E for a list of potential supporters of primary safety belt laws.
If passing a statewide primary enforcement safety belt use law is not possible, communities can consider the possibility of enacting a local ordinance. Many communities across the country have adopted local primary safety belt use ordinances and many more are actively pursuing them.
Section 2005 of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) establishes a grant program to encourage the enactment and enforcement of laws requiring the use of safety belts in passenger motor vehicles. Almost $500 million in grant funds will be available in fiscal years 2006-2009 under this program. Each State must use at least $1 million of the funds for behavioral highway safety programs. All 50 States, DC, Puerto Rico, and the four territories are eligible for this funding as long as they qualify under one of the following three circumstances:
Table 1 below provides the funding available to States under the Primary Safety Belt Law Incentive Grant program.
Section 406 - Primary Safety Belt Law Incentive Grants Under
First developed by the State of North Carolina and expanded by NHTSA in the late 1990’s, Click It or Ticket campaigns involve a two-week period of intensive enforcement of safety belt laws, coupled with extensive public information and education, including paid advertising. NHTSA evaluated the effectiveness of this model18 in 2002 making comparisons between “Full Implementation” States, “Other Implementation” States, and “Comparison” States that participated in Click It or Ticket campaigns in May and November of 2002.
In Full Implementation States, a statewide program employing all elements of the Click It or Ticket model was conducted including:
Among the Full Implementation States, the amount spent on paid advertising ranged from a low of $200,000 in Vermont to a high of $2,112,921 in Florida.
In Other Implementation States campaigns similar to the Full Implementation States were conducted; however, they used limited paid advertising. Among these States, the amount spent on paid advertising ranged from a low of $27,000 in Rhode Island to a high of $650,000 in Michigan. Comparison States also conducted campaigns similar to the Full Implementation States; however, they did not purchase any advertising.
Safety belt use increased an average of 8.6 percentage points across the 10 Click It or Ticket Full Implementation States (see Table 2). There was a 2.7-point increase averaged across the limited paid media States and only a 0.5-point safety belt use increase averaged across the States not using paid advertising. Among the Full Implementation group, increases in safety belt use occurred in all 10 States (both primary and secondary with either high- or low-safety-belt-use baselines). Safety belt use increased in three of the four States that had limited paid media and in two of the four comparison States.
Table 2 Observed Changes in the Safety Belt Use Rate by State (2002)
Among the 18 study States, approximately 250,000 safety belt citations were reported during the enforcement period. As Table 4 indicates, the rate of ticketing per resident ranged widely in all three study groups: 9 to 40 per 10,000 residents in Full Implementation States; 5 to 19 per 10,000 residents in Other Implementation States; and 10 to 36 in per 10,000 residents in Comparison States. Generally, the States with primary safety belt use laws (AL, IA IN, MI, NY, OR, TX) issued tickets at a greater per-resident rate (see Table 3). Highest ticketing rates included Alabama (31), Indiana (40), and Texas (40) among the Full Implementation States; in Comparison States, New York (36) had the highest ticketing rate.
Table 3 sTEP Wave Enforcement Summary (2002)
The trend for primary States to issue tickets at a greater per-resident rate has continued. In the evaluation of the May 2004 Click or Ticket campaign,19 researchers found that in States with a primary law, law officers issued 488,287 citations, which is approximately 30 citations per 10,000 residents. In States with a secondary law, 169,018 citations were issued, which is approximately 15 citations per 10,000 residents. This trend clearly suggests that primary law States will continue to maintain higher safety belt use rates due to the increased public perception that the safety belt law is being enforced, which is a key factor in safety belt use.