Seat belt use in the United States has reached its highest level since the Federal government began regular national surveys in 1994, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“The best way folks can protect themselves in their cars is by wearing a seat belt,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Whether you’re a driver or passenger, in the front seat or back, the simple act of wearing a seat belt significantly reduces the risk of fatality and major injury in a crash.”
The new data—drawn from a large-scale observational study conducted by NHTSA in June 2016, shows daytime belt use (drivers and right-front passengers of passenger vehicles from 7 am – 6 pm) reached 90.1%, a statistically significant increase from 88.5% in 2015. The study, known as the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), is the only survey that provides nationwide probability-based observed data on seat belt use in the United States. The NOPUS also provides data on other types of restraints, such as child restraints and motorcycle helmets, and driver electronic device use.
“Vehicles have many more safety features today than ever before, but there is nothing more important than the simple seat belt,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “We are encouraged by this progress, but with so many people still dying in crashes because they are not wearing their seat belts, we will not rest until we reach 100%.”
Even with a higher belt use, nearly half (48%) of people killed in crashes in 2015 were not wearing their seat belt. When used properly, lap/shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45%, and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%.
Seat belts saved nearly 14,000 lives during 2015 alone and an estimated 345,000 lives since 1975. The nation’s chief auto safety agency credits state legislators for enacting strong laws and our nation’s police officers for strong enforcement of those laws, especially during the annual national Click It or Ticket campaign. Also important was the agency’s decades-long focus on the issue, including the renowned “Vince and Larry” crash test dummy public service campaign of the ’80s and ’90s. This progress is the result of persistent effort by a wide range of safety partners, including the U.S. Congress, which provided resources including incentive grants and support for enforcement, state highway safety officials who mobilized and organized state enforcement and education campaigns, and many others including public health organizations that raised awareness and the auto and insurance industries that supported seat belt advocacy efforts.
Of note in the latest survey is that seat belt use is higher in the West than in the other regions of the U.S., and seat belt use continued to be higher in the states with primary belt use laws. Thirty-four states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants, while 15 states have secondary laws. In many of these states, the law is primary for younger drivers and/or passengers.
Other significant increases in the last year are among drivers and passengers of vans and SUVs, and those in rural areas.
Click here to view the Seat Belt Use in 2016—Overall Results report.