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Effectiveness: Effectiveness has been demonstrated for increased fines but has not yet been demonstrated for driver’s license points 4 Star Effectiveness has been demonstrated for increased fines but has not yet been demonstrated for driver’s license points Cost: $
Use: Low
Time: Short

Penalties for most seat belt use law violations are low. As of January 2019, a violation resulted in a typical fine of $25 or more in all but 14 States (IIHS, 2019b). Low fines may not convince nonusers to buckle up and may also send a message that seat belt use laws are not taken seriously. Some States use higher fines for first time offenders, with a maximum fine of $200 in Texas (IIHS, 2019b).

Most States penalize serious traffic law violations by assessing demerit points against a driver’s license. Drivers lose their licenses if they accumulate more than a specified number of points in a specified period of time.

Use: As of May 2019 there were 14 primary law States in addition to the District of Columbia and 2 secondary law States that had maximum fines of $30 or more for at least some occupants (IIHS, 2019b). New Mexico and the District of Columbia assessed driver license points for all seat belt law violations and 11 States assessed points for violations of child safety seat laws.

Effectiveness: The effect of driver’s license points on seat belt use has not been evaluated.

Houston and Richardson (2006) studied the effects of seat belt law type (primary or secondary), fine level, and coverage (front seat only or front and rear seats) using belt use data from 1991 to 2001. They found that primary belt laws and higher fines increase seat belt use.

Nichols, Tippetts, et al. (2010 and 2014) examined the relationship between seat belt violation fines and seat belt use and found that increasing fines was associated with increased seat belt use. Increasing a State’s fine from $25 to $60 was associated with increases of 3% to 4% in both observed seat belt use and belt use among front-seat occupants killed in crashes, an effect that was additive with increases attributed to the type of seat belt law. Increasing the fine from $25 to $100 was associated with increases of 6% to 7% for these measures; however, there were diminishing returns for fines above this amount (Nichols, Tippetts, et al., 2014).

Costs: The direct costs associated with increasing fine levels or assessing driver’s license points are minimal.

Time to implement: Both measures can be implemented as soon as they are publicized and appropriate changes are made to the motor vehicle records systems.

Other issues:

  • Balance: If penalties are excessively low (around $25 or less), then they may have little effect. If they are excessively high, then LEOs may be reluctant to issue citations and judges may be reluctant to impose them. States should choose penalty levels that strike an appropriate balance.
  • Penalty levels are part of a system: Penalty levels are part of the complete system of well-publicized enforcement of strong belt use laws. Appropriate penalty levels help make strong laws. But without effective enforcement, judicial support, and good publicity, increased penalties may have little effect.