Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
TECHNICAL SUMMARY

Background

The Buckle Up America Initiative (BUA) began when the Secretary of Transportation was directed to prepare a plan to increase seat belt use nationwide. In response, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) developed a plan calling for new partnerships, enactment of new legislation, strong enforcement, and expanded public information & education efforts. The specific goals of the plan aimed to increase seat belt use to 85 percent by 2000 and 90 percent by 2005, and to decrease fatalities to children under the age of five by 15 percent by 2000 and by 25 percent by 2005.

At the same time Executive Order 13043 was issued, which requires seat belt use by all federal employees on the job, all motor vehicle occupants in national parks, and all motor vehicle occupants in defense installations. The Executive Order also recommended that there be seat belt use policies and programs for federal contractors, grantees, and Tribal Governments.

Objective

This report documents two overall evaluation objectives. First, to evaluate outcomes including increased occupant restraint use and reduced fatalities. Second, to document efforts in response to the four components of the BUA Initiative and to the Executive Order 13043.

Method

Historic and current seat belt observation results, from multiple sources, were used to determine trends in occupant restraint use over time. Data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System were used to determine trends in fatalities. Law enforcement agency (LEA) citation data, categorized by state, state police, and size of urban population, were used to determine trends in occupant restraint citations issued. Case studies in ten states were used to document efforts to pass stronger occupant restraint legislation. Case studies were also used to document exemplary efforts from a number of public and private groups, and used to document exemplary efforts put forward by government agencies to the Executive Order 13043.

Results

Occupant Restraint Use

National Occupant Protection Usage Survey (NOPUS) results indicated that belt usage increased from 1994 to 1996 and even more so during early years of BUA, from 1996 to 1998. NOPUS data for 2000 indicated that the usage rate was still improving.

National Occupant Protection Use Survey
Front Seat Belt Use Rate

Graph of Front Seat Belt Use, 1996-2000d

State reported belt use rates for 1998 indicated that usage was above 85 percent in only one state, California, and at or above 80 percent in four states (MD, NM, OR, HI) and the District of Columbia. All of these locations allow primary enforcement of the seat belt law.

State Reported Seat Belt Use Rates, 1998
Graph of State Reported Seat Belt Use Rates, 1998d

NOPUS results of child safety seat usage indicated that the use rate improved from 1996 to 1998 (1998 results are preliminary). The largest improvement was for children ages one through four. Improvement also occurred for older children, ages five through 15.

National Occupant Protection Use Survey
Children <5 Years

Graph of Child Restraint Use Rate for Children Less than 5 Years of Age, 1994-1998d

Fatalities to Children Under Age Five

During BUA large strides to decrease fatalities to children under age five were accomplished. Fatalities decreased dramatically for children under age one (-20.9 percent) and were noticeably reduced for children ages one through four (-8.6%). Fewer fatalities occurred in situations where no restraint was used, and fewer occurred to children using child seats. The fatality data support the conclusion that more kids were buckled up over time.

Number of Child Fatalities by Type of Restraint
  1996 1997 1998 1996-1998
Percent Change
Under Age 1 177 135 140 -20.9
None used 85 62 75 -11.8
Child Seat 86 71 61 -29.1
Adult Seat Belt 6 2 4 -33.3
1-4 Years Old 476 468 435 -8.6
None used 253 266 219 -13.4
Child Seat 137 123 123 -10.2
Adult Seat Belt 86 79 93 +8.1
Total 653 604 575 -11.9
None used 338 329 293 -13.3
Child Seat 223 194 184 -17.5
Adult Seat Belt 92 81 97 +5.4

Enforcement

Seat belt and child safety seat enforcement increased under the umbrella of BUA programs. Seat belt enforcement data, collected from 32 states, indicated that citations issued increased in number (7.8% across all states) and on a per-resident basis (5.7%). Child seat enforcement data, collected from 29 states, indicated that citations issued also increased in number (8.3% across all states) and on a per-resident basis (6.1%). Results varied according to city size, state police, and type of law, primary or secondary.

Stronger Laws

Since 1997, six states (MD, IN, OK, AL, NJ, MI) and the District of Columbia passed a primary enforcement law. Many other states considered new legislation to strengthen their seat belt law but, for various reasons, were not successful at getting it enacted.

BUA Partners and Public Information & Education

Numerous private and nonprofit groups raised awareness and made positive impacts on occupant protection usage. One notable participant, the National Safety Council's Air Bag and Seat Belt Safety Campaign, promoted high visibility, occupant protection enforcement and helped lobby for stronger enforcement laws in a number of states. Other notable participants included auto manufacturers.

Executive Order 13043

The response to Executive Order 13043 has been sporadic, but some exemplary efforts were documented.

Summary

Buckle Up America is still far from its goal of 85 percent belt usage nationwide in 2000, though progress has been made. Buckle Up America has made remarkable progress towards its goal of decreasing fatalities of children under five years of age.


"PREPARED FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION UNDER CONTRACT NO.:DTNH22-97-D-05018. THE OPINIONS, FINDINGS, AND CONCLUSIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS PUBLICATION ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHORS AND NOT NECESSARILY THOSE OF THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION."

HS Form 321
July 1974