1998 SURVEY RESULTS

CHAPTER 4

ATTITUDES, KNOWLEDGE, AND EXPERIENCE WITH SEAT BELT LAWS AND THEIR ENFORCEMENT



Attitudes Toward Seat Belt Laws

During the time the survey was administered, 49 states plus the District of Columbia had laws requiring seat belt use that were applicable to adults, New Hampshire being the exception (see Appendix B). Respondents were asked their attitudes about enactment and enforcement of the laws, their knowledge of the seat belt laws in their own State, and their personal experience with seat belt law enforcement. Most persons age 16 and older (86%) favored requiring drivers and front seat passengers to wear seat belts. Two-thirds (67%) favored such laws a lot, and an additional 19% favored them somewhat. Thirteen percent did not favor driver and front seat passenger belt laws at all while 1% was unsure.


Figure59


Females (91%) voiced stronger support for front seat belt laws than did males (80%)(1). Support was also higher in the youngest age group (93%) compared to other age ranges, although much of this stemmed from a higher percentage of persons who said they only somewhat favored the laws.


Figure60


Blacks (94%) and Hispanics (95%) were more likely to express support for front seat belt laws than whites (84%) and non-Hispanics (85%). This pattern of greater support among minority groups for legislation and enforcement was repeated on other questionnaire items addressed in this Chapter.


Figure61


As expected, support for seat belt laws was strongest among those who used their seat belt most often. Nine-in-ten drivers (90%) who said they used their seat belt "all of the time" favored front seat belt laws "a lot" or "some." The figure dropped to 78% of "most of the time" seat belt users, and 71% of "some of the time" users. Among drivers who rarely or never wore seat belts, 40% said they favored laws requiring seat belt use by drivers and front seat passengers.


Figure62


More than three-quarters (78%) of those who favored laws requiring seat belt use in the front seat also favored applying the law to the back seat. This means that two-thirds (67%) of the total population age 16 and older supported seat belt laws applying to both the front and back seats (78% of the 86% who favored front seat laws).


Figure63


As noted on the previous page, 78% of persons who believed that drivers and front seat passengers should be required to wear seat belts also favored the law applying to back seat passengers as well, which equated to 67% favoring both front and back seat laws. The percentage of front seat law supporters who also supported back seat laws stayed in the 75-80% range for males (76%), females (79%), blacks (79%), whites (77%), and non-Hispanics (77%). Hispanics were a bit higher at 84%, which widened the difference with non-Hispanics shown on page 114 when support for front and back seat laws was combined.


Figure64


While the youngest age group was most likely to say they favored a front seat law (see page 113), they were similar to most other age groups when support for front and back seat laws was combined. This was because younger age groups (below age 35) who supported the front seat law were less supportive of also applying the law to the back seat compared to older age groups.


Figure65


Attitudes Toward Enforcement Of Seat Belt Laws

The public tended to favor enforcing seat belt laws with fines, but not with points on the driver's license. About three-fifths (61%) of the population age 16 and older supported fines for drivers who did not wear seat belts. About half that many (30%) supported points against the license as a penalty, with another 3% saying it depended on past violations. As indicated on page 112, 14% of the population opposed front seat belt laws entirely or did not know if they did.


Figure66


Among the demographic groups listed below, reported support for fines as a penalty for seat belt violations was greatest among Hispanics (75%), blacks (67%), and females (67%). Reported support for points was greatest among Hispanics (46%) and youth ages 16-20 (39%).


TABLE 34
Support For Fines And Points By Sex, Age, Race, And Ethnicity

Qx: Do you favor or oppose fines for drivers who do not wear seat belts?
Qx: Do you favor or oppose receiving points against a license as a penalty for seat belt violations?
  *Fines *Points  
  Favor Oppose **Oppose
Belt Laws
Favor Oppose **Oppose
Belt Laws
N-Size
Total 61% 21% 14% 30% 49% 14% (4094)
               
Sex              
Female 67% 18% 9% 33% 48% 9% (2185)
Male 54% 23% 20% 27% 49% 20% (1909)
               
Age              
16-20 61% 29% 7% 39% 52% 7% (398)
21-24 60% 24% 15% 29% 50% 15% (302)
25-34 62% 22% 12% 30% 52% 12% (1066)
35-44 62% 20% 15% 29% 49% 15% (931)
45-54 59% 20% 18% 25% 50% 18% (542)
55-64 61% 17% 18% 30% 43% 18% (330)
65+ 61% 18% 12% 32% 43% 12% (479)
               
Race              
Black 67% 21% 6% 35% 52% 6% (427)
White 59% 20% 16% 27% 49% 16% (3058)
Ethnicity              
               
Hispanic 75% 18% 5% 46% 42% 5% (406)
Non-Hispanic 59% 21% 15% 28% 49% 15% (3652)
    *The three response categories (Favor/Oppose/Oppose Belt Laws) do not sum to 100% because persons who answered DK/Ref or Depends to the questions on fines or points are not shown in the Table.
    **Includes those who did not know, or refused to say, if they supported front seat belt laws (they were not asked the question on fines or points). Depending on the group, this ranged from below 1% to 3%.


Interviewers asked those who supported fines as a sanction what they thought the minimum fine should be for the first seat belt violation. They then asked the same respondents what they thought the fine should be for repeat seat belt violations. If it was a first time violation, slightly less than half (47%) supported fines under $50 (or no fine at all) while few (13%) supported fines of $100 or more. However, the respondents generally favored stiffer fines if it was a repeat violation: only 18% supported fines under $50 while 41% supported fines of $100 or more.


Figure67


The survey sought to determine whether the public believed that existing fine amounts can affect behavior. Respondents were asked if someone they knew who didn't use seat belts all the time would wear them more often if assessed the amount of the fine in their State (for three States where there was no law or set fine amount the interviewers used an amount of $25). Figure 68 shows the results for those dollar amounts asked of 200 or more respondents. Only when the fine reached $20 did half or more believe that belt use would increase. Yet even at $50, many questioned the fine's effectiveness as 33% said there probably would be no change, 2% thought any change would be short term, 5% didn't know, and 3% said they didn't know anyone like that.


Figure68


Respondents were asked how they would likely react to getting a ticket for a seat belt violation. The interviewers gave respondents two choices and asked which was more likely: that they would believe they deserved the ticket because they broke the law, or they would believe the ticket was undeserved because wearing a seat belt should be a personal choice. This question was designed to enable comparison of the public's views about seat belt laws from the societal perspective (support for belt laws in principle) and the personal perspective (reaction to personally receiving some punishment for violating the laws). According to the data, two-thirds of the public (67%) would be more likely to believe that they deserved the ticket.


Figure69


The survey found attitudes toward seat belt laws in general, and attitudes about the fairness of personally receiving a ticket for a seat belt violation, to be fairly consistent with one another although not entirely so. About five out of six persons (84%) who said they favored front seat belt laws "a lot" also said they would deserve the ticket for breaking the law. This figure dropped by half to 42% for those who favored the laws "some." Still, 13% who favored the laws "a lot" responded that they would not deserve the ticket because it should be a personal choice (3% "did not know" their likely reaction or did not answer). Conversely, 15% of those who did not favor the laws at all said they would deserve the ticket.


Figure70

Females (72%) were more likely than males (61%) to believe that their probable reaction would be that they deserved the ticket. More than one-third of males (36%) instead chose the argument that they did not deserve the ticket because it should be a personal choice. In addition, Hispanics (76%) and blacks (70%) were more likely than non-Hispanics (66%) and whites (65%) to answer that they likely would feel that they deserved the ticket.


Figure71


Knowledge Of State Seat Belt Laws

Interviewers asked respondents whether or not their State had a seat belt law, and then asked questions about the law's coverage and enforcement guidelines. Most people (94%) believed their State did indeed have a seat belt law. Those that didn't were usually uncertain about the existence of a State law. At the time of the survey, New Hampshire was the only State not having a seat belt law applicable to adults. When the few survey cases from New Hampshire (18) were excluded from the analysis, the percentage of those who believed there was a State law remained unchanged at 94%. Interestingly, of the 18 cases from New Hampshire, 5 thought there was a State law applicable to drivers, and some others were unsure.


Figure72


Those persons who believed their State had a law requiring seat belt use were asked who the law covered. NHTSA changed the structure of this question for the 1998 survey. According to the restructured format, the interviewers asked the respondents if each of the following groups was required to wear seat belts: drivers, children in the front seat, children in the back seat, adult passengers in the front seat, and adult passengers in the back seat. The respondents most often said the law covered drivers (93%), children in the front (86%), and adult passengers in the front (85%). Many thought the law also covered children in the back (76%). Fewer than half (42%) assumed that adults were required to wear seat belts in the back seat.


Figure73


The next three pages show self-reported belt use for a specific seating position for persons who believed there was a law requiring usage in that seating position. For purposes of comparison, these pages also present self-reported belt use for persons who did not believe there was a law, or did not believe that seating position was covered by the law, or said they were unsure if that seating position was covered by the law.

Among drivers who thought there was a law requiring drivers to wear seat belts, 79% said they used their seat belt "all of the time" while driving. If they did not say that drivers were covered by the law, 74% said they wore their seat belts "all the time" while driving.


Figure74


Recorded differences in self-reported seat belt use were even smaller for the front seat passenger side. Three-fourths (75%) of those who said there was a seat belt law that covered adult front seat passengers also reported that they always wore their seat belt when sitting as passengers in the front seat. This compared to 72% of those who were unaware of a law, or did not say it covered front seat adult passengers.


Figure75


The law appeared to make the greatest difference for seat belt use in the rear seating position. Among those who thought there was a law that covered the back seat, 52% said they used their seat belt "all the time" when riding in the back. Absent that knowledge, only 37% answered that they wore their seat belt "all of the time" while riding in the back seat.


Figure76


Figure 77 segments those persons who thought there was a State law into groups based on the extent they believed that the law covered adults. Forty-one percent believed that the law applied to all adults in the vehicle (drivers, passengers in the front, and passengers in the back). The same percentage (41%) thought that the law applied to drivers and front seat adult passengers, but not adults in the back. Ten percent answered that the law applied to drivers only. The remainder of the respondents (8%) either provided a different permutation from the combinations possible, or else indicated that they did not know who the law covered.


Figure77


The greater the coverage of the law, the more likely that persons could correctly identify who in the vehicle was required to wear seat belts. In States where all seating positions were covered, 70% of the respondents correctly agreed that drivers, adult front seat passengers, and adult back seat passengers were required to wear seat belts. If the State law only covered the front seating positions, then fewer than half (49%) correctly agreed that drivers and adult front seat passengers, but not adult back seat passengers, were required to wear seat belts. Another 32% in these States believed that all seating positions were covered. This suggested that if they were unsure of all of the details of their State law, people tended to believe it covered the driver plus all passengers.


TABLE 35
Beliefs About Who Is Required To Wear Seat Belts
By Seating Positions Covered By State Law

Qx: Who is required to wear seat belts according to your state law? Are (READ ITEM) required to wear seat belts?
Base: Believe that State has a seat belt law.
Who Public Believes Is Required To Wear Seat Belts What State Law Actually Requires
Driver and All Passengers
To Wear Seat Belts
(N=895)
Only Driver And
Front Seat Passengers
To Wear Seat Belts
(N=2932)
Driver and All Passengers 70% 32%
Driver Only 8% 11%
Driver and Front Seat Passengers 16% 49%
Other/DK/Ref 6% 8%


Pages 128-130 examined self-reported seat belt use according to beliefs about what seating positions were covered by the State law. Table 36 summarizes self-reported seat belt use according to the actual provisions of the State law. The results were similar; the major difference occurred in the back seat. Without a back seat provision, people were far less likely to report wearing their seat belt while riding in the back seating position.


TABLE 36
Self-Reported Seat Belt Use By Seating Positions
Covered By State Law

Qx: When driving this (car/truck/van), how often do you wear your (shoulder/lap) belt?
Qx: When riding as a passenger in the front seat how often do you wear your seat belt?
Qx: When riding as a passenger in the back seat how often do you wear your seat belt?
Base: Drivers whose primary vehicle has seat belts/Persons who at least on occasion ride as passengers.
Self-Reported Seat Belt Use For Different Seating Positions What State Law Actually Requires
Driver and All Passengers
To Wear Seat Belts
Only Driver And
Front Seat Passengers
To Wear Seat Belts
Seat Belt Use As Driver (Drivers Only/N=839) (Drivers Only/N=2838)
All The Time 82% 78%
Most Of The Time 10% 13%
Some Of The Time 3% 5%
Rarely 3% 2%
Never 3% 3%
     
Seat Belt Use In Front Seat (N=895) (N=2921)
All Of The Time 79% 73%
Most Of The Time 11% 14%
Some Of The Time 4% 7%
Rarely 2% 3%
Never 4% 4%
     
Seat Belt Use In Back Seat (N=895) (N=2921)
All Of The Time 58% 38%
Most Of The Time 12% 12%
Some Of The Time 8% 12%
Rarely 6% 10%
Never 9% 19%
Never Ride In Back 6% 7%


Standard or Secondary Enforcement Provisions Of Seat Belt Laws

State seat belt laws contain either standard or secondary enforcement provisions. Under standard enforcement, law enforcement officers can stop a vehicle on the basis of observing a seat belt violation. Under secondary enforcement an officer must observe some other violation first before stopping a vehicle. At the time of the survey 14 States plus the District of Columbia had standard enforcement provisions; 35 State laws required secondary enforcement. Among persons who thought their State had a law, 58% believed it permitted standard enforcement. This equates to 55% of the total population age 16 and older (58% of the 94% who believed there was a State law).


Figure78


Among persons living in States having seat belt laws with standard enforcement provisions, almost three-quarters (74%) reported that police could stop vehicles on the basis of observing seat belt violations (this figure is based on the total population; not just those who thought there was a law). In States having secondary enforcement provisions, there actually were more persons who incorrectly believed that police could stop a vehicle based on observing a seat belt violation (41%) than those who correctly knew that some other violation must be the basis for stopping the vehicle (36%).


Figure79


Drivers in States having standard enforcement provisions reported more frequent seat belt use than did those in secondary enforcement States. In States where law enforcement officers could stop motor vehicles on the basis of observing seat belt violations, 85% of drivers said that they wore seat belts "all of the time" while driving. The comparable figure for drivers in secondary enforcement States was 75%.


Figure80


The previous page looked at differences in seat belt use based on whether the State law called for standard or secondary enforcement. Presented below is drivers' reported seat belt usage separated according to their beliefs about the provisions of the State law. The results were similar to the previous analysis. If drivers thought that their State law permitted standard enforcement, then they were more likely to answer that they wore their seat belt "all of the time" (82%) compared to drivers who did not think their State allowed this (74%).


Figure81


While reported seat belt usage was higher in standard enforcement States, there did not appear to be major differences between standard and secondary enforcement States in the perceived utility of seat belts. Table 37 compares the two groups of States on several belt utility items, as well as other attitudes. Comparison of those attitudes directly associated with enforcement are addressed later in this Chapter. Of the items listed below, the largest difference between standard and secondary enforcement States was only 5 percentage points.



TABLE 37
Attitudes Concerning Utility Of Seat Belts By
Whether State Seat Belt Law Permits Standard
Or Secondary Enforcement

  Provisions Of State Law
Standard Secondary
(N=1731) (N=2345)
Strongly or Somewhat Agree With Statement:    
Seat belts are just as likely to harm you as help you. 38% 39%
An accident close to home is usually not as serious as an accident farther away. 14% 12%
If I were in an accident, I would want to have my seat belt on. 94% 93%
I would feel self-conscious around my friends if I wore a seat belt and they did not. 21% 16%
Medical insurance costs would be lower if more people wore seat belts. 70% 66%
Putting on a seat belt makes me worry more about being in an accident. 16% 15%
Agree With Statement:    
If it is your time to die, you'll die, so it doesn't matter whether you wear your seat belt? 27% 28%
People have a choice to do what they can to avoid death and serious injury, so wearing a seat belt does matter? 89% 88%


Besides exploring respondents' awareness of the enforcement provisions of their State law, the survey collected data on whether or not respondents supported standard enforcement. Almost six-in-ten (58%) agreed that police should be allowed to stop a vehicle if they observed a seat belt violation when no other traffic laws were being broken. The figure was higher (68%) in States currently permitting standard enforcement of seat belt laws. Yet even in States with secondary enforcement provisions, half of the public (50%) supported standard enforcement while another 4% were unsure.


Figure82


Support for standard enforcement provisions was greater among females (63%) than males (52%), greater among blacks (61%) than whites (56%), and greater among Hispanics (73%) than non-Hispanics (56%). Persons age 21 through 24 showed the least support (49%) compared to any other age range listed below.


TABLE 38
Support For Standard Enforcement By
Sex, Age, Race, And Ethnicity

Qx: In your opinion, should police be allowed to stop a vehicle if they observe a seat belt violation when no other traffic laws are being broken?

  Yes No DK/Ref N-Size
Total 58% 39% 3% (4094)
         
Sex        
Female 63% 33% 5% (2185)
Male 52% 46% 2% (1909)
       
Age        
16-20 56% 44% 1% (398)
21-24 49% 49% 2% (302)
25-34 55% 43% 2% (1066)
35-44 58% 38% 3% (931)
45-54 58% 39% 3% (542)
55-64 59% 39% 2% (330)
65+ 64% 29% 7% (479)
         
Race        
Black 61% 36% 4% (427)
White 56% 41% 3% (3058)
         
Ethnicity        
Hispanic 73% 25% 2% (406)
Non-Hispanic 56% 41% 3% (3652)


In general, people's beliefs and attitudes about enforcement provisions tended to agree. Among persons who believed their State seat belt law permitted standard enforcement, 69% agreed that police should be able to stop the vehicle if they observe a seat belt violation but no other infraction. But if they believed their State law only allowed secondary enforcement, then the majority (59%) supported secondary enforcement provisions.


Figure83


If a respondent said that police should not be allowed to stop a vehicle based on observing a seat belt violation (or said s/he did not know if police should be allowed to do this), the interviewer stated that "most other traffic laws allow police to stop the vehicle whenever they see a violation." The interviewer then asked why the respondent thought seat belt violations should be treated differently from other violations. The most frequently mentioned reason was that wearing seat belts should be a personal choice (29%). One-in-five (20%) answered that noncompliance did not pose a threat to others; an identical percentage (20%) responded that it was not a serious violation.


Figure84


Stopped For Traffic-Related Reason In Past Year

The number of States having seat belt laws that contain standard enforcement provisions has risen in recent years. However, most States at this time continue to require secondary enforcement (see Appendix B for listing of enforcement provisions of State laws at the time of the survey). One of the major objections raised in efforts to convert from secondary to standard enforcement has been the concern expressed by some groups that an upgraded law would be differentially enforced against them.

This survey examined whether certain groups are subjected to traffic stops at different rates by law enforcement officers. Interviewers asked drivers if they had been stopped by police in the past twelve months for any traffic-related reason while driving. If they had been stopped, the interviewers asked the respondents if they were wearing a seat belt at the time of the stop. Lastly, the interviewers questioned the respondents about the outcome of the stop. Specifically, the interviewers asked the respondents if they received a ticket for a traffic violation.

About one-in-six drivers (17.0%) said they had been stopped by police for a traffic-related reason in the past year. Males (20.4%) were more likely to indicate this than were females (13.6%). A higher percentage of blacks (19.0%) than whites (16.5%) reported that they had been stopped, as did a higher percentage of Hispanics (21.2%) than non-Hispanics (16.7%). However, the numbers of black and Hispanic drivers in the study were too few for these differences to be statistically significant.


Figure85


Greater differences occurred when segmenting the sample of drivers by age group. Almost three-in-ten drivers ages 16-20 (29.1%) said they had been stopped by police in the past year for a traffic-related reason, as did more than one-third (34.9%) of drivers ages 21-24. The figure then declined to 23.5% of drivers ages 25-34, 19.2% of drivers ages 35-44, 13.1% of drivers ages 45-54, 8.3% of drivers ages 55-64, and 3.7% of drivers age 65 and older. Readers are cautioned that the sample size for some of the age ranges is relatively small.


Figure86


There was no appreciable difference between States with standard and secondary enforcement seat belt laws in the percentage of drivers who had been stopped by police in the past twelve months for traffic-related reasons. The recorded percentage of stopped drivers was actually higher in the secondary enforcement States (17.4%) than the standard enforcement States (16.4%), although not a statistically significant difference.


Figure87


Of those persons who said that they had been stopped by police in the past year for a traffic-related reason while driving, the vast majority (81%) answered that they were wearing a seat belt at the time. If they were not wearing a seat belt, they usually received a ticket (37%) or warning (19%) for violating seat belt laws.


Figure88


Among all drivers who were stopped for a traffic-related reason, 60% received a ticket for some type of traffic violation. Most often, they did not get a ticket for a seat belt violation (understandable since most were wearing their seat belts) but received a ticket for something else (54%). In a few cases (3%), they received both a seat belt ticket and a ticket for some other traffic violation. The same percentage (3%) were given a seat belt ticket but no other citation. Almost four-in-ten (39%) reported that they did not receive any type of ticket.


Figure89


Beliefs About Power Of Law Enforcement To Stop Vehicles

While some persons have expressed concerns that standard enforcement provisions for seat belt laws may be inappropriately used by law enforcement to stop vehicles, there is a question as to whether the public believes that a standard enforcement seat belt law would make any difference in the power of law enforcement to stop motor vehicles. To examine that question, respondents were asked their level of agreement with the statement "If a police officer wanted to stop a motor vehicle, that officer could always find a legal reason to stop it." Slightly more than three-in-five persons (63%) agreed with the statement while 33% disagreed.


Figure90


Blacks (40%), Hispanics (43%), and males (42%) were more likely than whites (34%), non-Hispanics (35%), and females (30%) to strongly agree with the statement. The youngest age group (28%) was least likely of the groups listed to express strong agreement with the statement.


TABLE 39
"If A Police Officer Wanted To Stop A Motor Vehicle.
That Officer Could Always Find A Legal Reason To Stop It"
By Sex, Age, Race, And Ethnicity

Qx: Now I'm going to read you a few statements. Please tell me whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree. "If a police officer wanted to stop a motor vehicle, that officer could always find a legal reason to stop it."

  Strongly
Agree
Somewhat
Agree
Somewhat
Disagree
Strongly
Disagree
DK/Ref N-Size
Total 36% 27% 17% 16% 4% (4094)
             
Sex            
Female 30% 29% 19% 17% 5% (2185)
Male 42% 25% 15% 16% 3% (1909)
             
Age            
16-20 28% 36% 20% 16% 1% (398)
21-24 35% 36% 15% 13% 2% (302)
25-34 38% 27% 18% 16% 2% (1066)
35-44 35% 27% 18% 17% 3% (931)
45-54 36% 23% 21% 17% 4% (542)
55-64 44% 24% 12% 17% 3% (330)
65+ 34% 26% 14% 16% 10% (479)
           
Race            
Black 40% 24% 14% 17% 5% (427)
White 34% 27% 18% 17% 4% (3058)
             
Ethnicity            
Hispanic 43% 26% 15% 12% 3% (406)
Non-Hispanic 35% 27% 17% 17% 4% (3652)
             
Stopped In Past Year
By Police
40% 29% 17% 13% 1% (722)


Ever Received Ticket Or Warning For Seat Belt Violation

Almost 12% (11.6%) of the population age 16 and older have received a ticket and/or warning for violating the seat belt laws. Specifically, 6.1% have received a ticket only, 1.5% have received both a ticket and a warning, and 4.0% have received only a warning. A fraction over 88% (88.2%) percent have received neither a ticket nor warning, while less than 1% (0.2%) were unsure or refused to respond.


Figure91


Overall, 11.6% of the population age 16 and older had received a ticket and/or warning at some time in the past for a seat belt violation. The figure was 12.4% for blacks, 11.1% for whites, 13.1% for Hispanics, and 11.5% for non-Hispanics. Specifically regarding tickets (either ticket only or ticket and warning), 7.3% of blacks, 7.1% of whites, 8.9% of Hispanics, and 7.5% of non-Hispanics had received seat belt citations.


Figure92


In States having seat belt laws with standard enforcement provisions, 13.3% of the population age 16 and older had received a ticket and/or warning for a seat belt violation. In secondary enforcement States, 10.5% had received a ticket and/or warning. The difference was almost entirely due to more persons in standard enforcement States reporting that they had been ticketed.


Figure93


When asked if their frequency of seat belt use had changed after they received the seat belt ticket or warning, most persons (56%) said that they started using their seat belt more often. A few (2%) reported using their seat belt less often while 41% indicated that there was no change.


Figure94


Although most persons who had received a seat belt ticket or warning said that their use of seat belts increased afterwards, their reported level of current seat belt use still tended to be markedly lower than that of persons who had received neither a ticket nor warning. Among drivers, 62% of those who had received a ticket only, 54% of those who had received a warning only, and 50% of those who had received a ticket and warning said that they used their seat belt "all of the time" while driving. In contrast, 82% of drivers who had received neither a seat belt ticket nor warning reported wearing their seat belt "all of the time" while driving.


Figure95


Perceived Risk Of Being Ticketed For Non-Use Of Seat Belts

Drivers were asked their likelihood of being ticketed if they did not wear a seat belt at all during the next six months while driving. A minority (39%) considered it likely; less than one-in-five (18%) considered it very likely. More than one-third of drivers (35%) thought they would be very unlikely to be ticketed. Readers are reminded that most non-use occurs among persons who use their seat belts at least on occasion (see Chapter 1). Thus the question wording took the most extreme form of non-use, and removed the option taken by many drivers of responding to their own assessments of risk.


Figure96


Drivers who previously had received a seat belt ticket were more likely than other drivers to view themselves at-risk of being ticketed if they did not wear their seat belt. Among those drivers who had gotten a seat belt ticket (but no warning) at some time in the past, 50% answered that they were somewhat or very likely to be ticketed if they did not use seat belts at all over the next six months compared to 38% of drivers who had never received a ticket or warning. Most of that difference occurred in the very likely category.

The perceived risk was weaker if only warnings were received. There basically was no difference in the percentage who viewed a ticket as very likely between "warning only" and "no ticket or warning" respondents. Instead, the "warning only" group was more apt to consider a ticket to be somewhat likely than did the "no ticket or warning" group and less prone to consider a ticket very unlikely. Few respondents had received both a ticket and a warning, so the results are only suggestive. These respondents showed the greatest level of perceived risk of being ticketed.


TABLE 40
Perceived Risk Of Being Ticketed By Whether
Ever Received A Seat Belt Ticket Or Warning

Qx: Assume that you do not wear your seat belt AT ALL while driving over the next six months. How likely do you think you will be to receive a ticket for not wearing a seat belt?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle.
Perceived Risk Of
Being Ticketed:
Ever Received Ticket Or Warning
Ticket Only Ticket and
Warning
Warning Only Neither Ticket
Nor Warning
(N=269) (N=68) (N=153) (N=3226)
Very Likely 26% 46% 16% 17%
Somewhat Likely 23% 12% 32% 21%
Somewhat Unlikely 16% 22% 22% 22%
Very Unlikely 30% 19% 27% 35%
DK/Ref 4% 2% 3% 5%



The perceived risk of being ticketed differed substantially according to the enforcement provisions of the State law. In States permitting standard enforcement of seat belt laws, almost half (49%) of drivers said they were somewhat or very likely to be ticketed if they did not wear their seat belt at all while driving over the next six months. Only 33% in secondary enforcement States considered themselves to be somewhat or very likely to be ticketed.


Figure97


Drivers who wore their seat belts more often were more likely than other drivers to perceive themselves at-risk of being ticketed if they did not use their seat belts at all. Among self-reported "all the time" seat belt users, 42% thought it was either somewhat likely or very likely that they would receive a ticket if they did not wear a seat belt at all while driving over the next six months. The number dropped to 34% among "most of the time" users, and 24% among "some of the time" users. Fewer than one-in-five (18%) of those who said they rarely or never wore seat belts thought they would likely get a ticket.


Figure98


Among the demographic groups listed in Table 41, greatest perceived risk of being ticketed for non-use of seat belts over a period of six months was recorded for Hispanics. More than half (56%) considered it very likely or somewhat likely they would be given a ticket, compared to 37% of non-Hispanics. In addition, perceived risk of being ticketed was somewhat higher than the norm (39%) for females (43%), blacks (42%), and the oldest age groups (46% of those age 55 and older).


TABLE 41
Perceived Risk Of Being Ticketed For Non-Use
By Sex, Age, Race, And Ethnicity

Qx: Assume that you do not wear your seat belt AT ALL while driving over the next six months. How likely do you think you will be to receive a ticket for not wearing a seat belt?

  Very
Likely
Somewhat
Likely
Somewhat
Unlikely
Very
Unlikely
DK/Ref N-Size
Total 18% 21% 22% 35% 5% (3721)
             
Sex            
Female 21% 22% 20% 31% 6% (1932)
Male 15% 20% 23% 38% 4% (1789)
             
Age            
16-20 10% 27% 28% 35% 1% (328)
21-24 14% 21% 26% 37% 1% (268)
25-34 15% 21% 22% 40% 2% (987)
35-44 15% 21% 24% 36% 3% (880)
45-54 20% 19% 22% 34% 6% (507)
55-64 24% 21% 20% 29% 6% (299)
65+ 26% 20% 15% 29% 11% (413)
             
Race            
Black 25% 17% 20% 36% 2% (354)
White 16% 21% 23% 35% 5% (2868)
             
Ethnicity            
Hispanic 32% 24% 14% 27% 3% (312)
Non-Hispanic 17% 21% 23% 35% 5% (3383)


One of the new attitude questions included in the 1998 survey asked respondents their level of agreement with the statement "Police in my community generally do not bother to write tickets for seat belt violations." The public was more likely to agree with that statement (44%) than to disagree (32%). However, many people (23%) said they did not know the answer.


Figure99


Respondents were less likely to (strongly or somewhat) agree that police in their community did not bother to write seat belt tickets if they lived in standard enforcement States (38%) than in secondary enforcement States (48%). In fact, there were more persons who disagreed with the statement (42%) than agreed with it (38%) in the standard enforcement States.


Figure100


Infrequent users of seat belts were less likely than frequent users to believe that local police enforced the seat belt law. However, even among regular seat belt users, more than four-in-ten agreed with the statement that police in their community do not bother to write seat belt tickets, and more than 20% did not know.


Figure101


Persons ages 16-20 (60%) and 21-24 (56%) were most likely among the groups listed below to agree that ticketing for seat belt violations generally did not occur in their community; those age 65 and older were the most unsure (37%). Blacks and Hispanics differed from whites and non-Hispanics principally in that the former two groups were more likely to strongly disagree with the statement and less likely to express uncertainty.


TABLE 42
"Police In My Community Generally Do Not Bother To Write
Tickets For Seat Belt Violations"
By Sex, Age, Race, And Ethnicity

Qx: Now I'm going to read you a few statements. Please tell me whether you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree. "Police in my community generally do not bother to write tickets for seat belt violations."

  Strongly
Agree
Somewhat
Agree
Somewhat
Disagree
Strongly
Disagree
DK/Ref N-Size
Total 21% 23% 16% 17% 23% (4094)
             
Sex            
Female 20% 22% 14% 17% 28% (2185)
Male 22% 25% 17% 17% 19% (1909)
             
Age            
16-20 24% 36% 17% 16% 6% (398)
21-24 26% 30% 14% 19% 11% (302)
25-34 19% 28% 17% 17% 20% (1066)
35-44 22% 21% 16% 16% 25% (931)
45-54 16% 22% 19% 20% 24% (542)
55-64 24% 18% 12% 21% 25% (330)
65+ 21% 16% 13% 13% 37% (479)
             
Race            
Black 22% 20% 16% 24% 17% (427)
White 20% 24% 16% 15% 26% (3058)
             
Ethnicity            
Hispanic 23% 23% 17% 23% 14% (406)
Non-Hispanic 21% 23% 15% 16% 25% (3652)


Preferred Level Of Enforcement

Support for seat belt law enforcement was mixed, with some favoring strong enforcement and others wanting little or no enforcement. Interviewers asked respondents how strictly police should enforce seat belt laws, using a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 meant police should hardly ever give tickets for seat belt violations and 10 meant they should give tickets at every opportunity. Most frequently, the respondents said they favored ticketing at every opportunity, although there also was clustering at the middle and low end of the scale. The average score was 6.04.


Figure102


Persons in standard enforcement States tended towards supporting stricter enforcement of seat belt laws than did those in secondary enforcement States. The mean score recorded for the respondents in standard enforcement States was 6.47 on the ten-point-scale, versus 5.74 for respondents in secondary enforcement States.


Figure103


Hispanics voiced particularly strong support for enforcement of seat belt laws, providing an average score of 7.1 on the 10 point scale. Blacks and females also were above the mean population average of 6.0.


Figure104


Age differences in level of support for enforcement of seat belt laws were generally smaller than the differences shown on the preceding page. The least support appeared among persons ages 21 through 24.


Figure105




1. This number differs from the sum of the two listed numbers in the Figure because of rounding. Similar differences appear on subsequent pages in this Chapter.