safety belts save lives

Section V
Public Support for Safety Belt Use Laws

Ninety-five percent of the public agreed with the statement If I were in an accident, I would want to have my seat belt on. 28

A recent Institute (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) survey of California drivers found 90 percent favor the state's belt use law, which allows for primary enforcement. Even though police enforce this law more aggressively than in most other States, only
22 percent of the Californians surveyed
thought the law was being very strictly enforced. Fifty-nine percent thought it should be very strictly enforced, and 46 percent thought the penalty should be higher than the $20 fine that's currently imposed. 29
So there's plenty of public support and no reason at all for legislators to shy away
from enacting primary laws or for police to scale back enforcement efforts, noted Susan Ferguson, Institute senior vice president for research.

The Governors' Highway Safety Association strongly encourages all States to adopt and enforce primary safety belt use laws that apply to all occupants in all seating positions. 30

In 2003, NHTSA conducted a survey27 among a national sample of approximately 6,000 people age 16 and older to determine attitudes, knowledge, and experience with safety belt laws and their enforcement. Support for safety belt use laws was enormously positive, as was support for safety belt use.

Attitudes, Knowledge, and Experience with Safety Belt Laws and their Enforcement

The vast majority (88%) of the public favored safety belt laws for front seat occupants.

Among persons who supported front seat safety belt laws, 80 percent also supported applying safety belt laws to back seat adult passengers.

Almost two-thirds (65%) of the population age 16 and older supported fines for drivers who did not wear safety belts. About half that many supported points against the license as a penalty.

Almost everyone (94%) believed their States had laws requiring safety belt use. They most often thought the law covered drivers, children in the front, and adult passengers in
the front.

Awareness of Primary/Secondary Enforcement Provisions in their State

Approximately two-thirds (66%) of the public who believed that their State had a safety belt law thought the law permitted primary enforcement.

In primary enforcement States, about three-fourths of the total population believed their State had a safety belt law that included primary enforcement provisions.

In secondary enforcement States, almost half (46%) of the people believed their State law had primary enforcement provisions. Approximately a third thought it had secondary enforcement provisions.

Drivers were more likely to report that they wore their safety belt “all of the time” while driving if they resided in States having primary enforcement provisions (89%), as opposed to secondary enforcement provisions (81%).

Support for Primary Enforcement

Overall, 64 percent of the population believed that police should be allowed to stop a vehicle if they observed a safety belt violation when no other traffic laws were being broken, compared to 61 percent in 2000.

Perceived Risk of Personally Being Ticketed

Almost half (46%) of drivers considered it very or somewhat likely that they would receive a ticket if they did not wear their safety belt at all while driving over the next six months. The perceived risk of being ticketed was higher among drivers in primary enforcement States, and higher among drivers who tended to wear their safety belt more often.

two children shown in forward-facing safety seatsPreferred Level of Enforcement Activity

When asked to rate on a 10-point scale how strictly they believed the police should enforce safety belt laws, the public’s response was mixed. They most often picked a value of “10” meaning “Police should give tickets at every opportunity,” although responses also clustered at the middle and low end of the scale. The average score was 6.3.

Increasing Acceptance of Primary Enforcement

The number of States (plus DC and Puerto Rico) with safety belt laws that contain provisions permitting primary enforcement has increased substantially since the survey was first administered, reaching 18 at the time of the 2003 survey (It reached 25 at the time of this publication.) Consistent with that increase:

  • The percentage of the population who believe their State law permits primary enforcement has steadily increased, reaching 66 percent in 2003 from 49 percent in 1994.

  • Support for primary enforcement has also steadily increased, from 52 percent in 1996 (when the question was first asked) to 64 percent in 2003.