Study: Seatbelt use increases with tougher laws, stiff fines

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday, Nov. 23, released new research that shows that states that strengthen belt laws and increase fines for unbuckled motorists see substantially increased seatbelt use.

According to the NHTSA study, states that upgrade from a secondary to primary seatbelt law show belt use gains of 10 to 12 percentage points. It also shows that states that increase the fine for a belt use violation from $25, the national median, to $60 show gains of 3 to 4 percentage points in belt use. Those that raise the penalty to $100 show 6 to 7 percent point gains.

Because many states have passed tougher seatbelts laws and stiffer fines, unbuckled motorists could face more severe penalties if caught. “Seatbelts are the single most protective safety device ever invented for use in vehicles, saving thousands of lives each year,” says NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Now our research proves that when states step up sanctions, they’re rewarded with huge improvements in belt use.”

The research was based on surveys of seatbelt use conducted by the states between 1997 and 2008. The surveys were done in accordance with NHTSA methodology. “For the sake of your loved ones and everyone else on the road, please remember to buckle up and put away your cell phone every time you get behind the wheel,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.