1.6 GDL Belt Use Requirements
Overall Effectiveness Concerns: To date there has been only one evaluation of the effects of explicit seat belt use requirements in GDL laws. This evaluation found no evidence the countermeasure had any effect on teen driver belt use (Freedman & Levi, 2008).
Properly worn seat belts dramatically reduce the risk of injury or death to vehicle occupants in crashes (Kahane, 2015). Seat belts are particularly important for teenage drivers because of their elevated crash risk. Nonetheless, younger drivers and passengers have lower seat belt use rates than older drivers and passengers (Enriquez, 2019). Belt use is particularly low among teenagers who are male, drive pickup trucks, and live in rural areas (Kim et al., 2009).
Young drivers are covered by seat belt laws in all States except New Hampshire, which only requires seat belts for people under 18 (GHSA, 2019c). Some States explicitly require belt use under their GDL laws. An explicit belt use requirement in State GDL laws may have more influence on beginning drivers than States’ overall belt use laws, especially in States where GDL belt use requirements are coupled with primary enforcement for young drivers and in States where seat belt violations result in delayed graduation to the next GDL stage.
Use: As of 2012 GDL laws in 22 States explicitly required seat belt use (AAA Public Affairs, 2012). Sanctions for violating this requirement varied across States.
Effectiveness: To date there has only been one evaluation of the effects of explicit seat belt use requirements in GDL laws. Tennessee and Wisconsin both have a seat belt restriction in their GDL programs. Evaluations of the restrictions in these two States found little if any effect on teen driver belt use (Freedman & Levi, 2008). One problem is that teens (and parents) may not be aware when seat belt laws are part of a State’s GDL system. For example, surveys in North Carolina have shown very high awareness for the State’s nighttime and passenger restrictions, but only 3% of teens and 5% of parents were aware of the special GDL provision concerning seat belts (Goodwin & Foss, 2004).
Costs: Once GDL is in place, a belt use requirement can be implemented at very little cost.
Time to implement: GDL requirement changes typically require about 6 months to notify the public and implement the changes.