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Primary Enforcement Saves Lives: The Case for Strong Seat Belt Laws

NCJ Number
Date Published
April 2002
39 pages
This report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration discusses the benefits of enforcing strong seat belt laws.
Focusing on seat belt law enforcement, this report from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) describes the importance of tough seat belt laws. After asserting that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for all people from the ages of 4 to 33, this report asserts that many of these deaths are preventable if seat belts and safety seats are used. While seat belt usage has increased in recent years, as the result of highly visible seat belt law enforcement and public education campaigns, the rate of seat belt usage is only 62 percent. Arguing that primary laws are important in increasing seat belt use, this report describes the Buckle Up America (BUA) campaign, developed in 1997 by the NHTSA. Consisting of a four-point strategy, enacting strong legislation, building private-public partnerships at the local, State, and Federal levels, conducting active, highly-visible enforcement, and expanding public education, the BUA program was designed to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs associated with motor vehicle crashes. After distinguishing primary standard seat belt law enforcement allowing police officers to stop individuals for not wearing seat belts, from secondary enforcement that allows officers to issue citations for not wearing a seat belt only if the driver is stopped for another infraction, this article compares the effects of primary and secondary seat belt use laws. Concluding that strong primary seat belt use laws, in conjunction with highly visible enforcement and public education, results in preventing deaths and injury and saving money, this report advocates individuals getting involved in State legislation to toughen existing seat belt laws. A series of appendices documenting the economic costs of non-seat belt usage, examples of standard safety belt model laws, and a listing of resources and references used in this report complete this document.