Primary Seat Belt Laws
When used, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat passengers by 45 percent. Since teens and young adults ages 16 to 24 have the lowest seat belt use of any age group (80 percent) and primary seat belt laws in place increase seat belt use by 10 percent, if more states enact a primary seat belt law as part of their Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) law, it will potentially save many teen lives. In 2009 the majority (56 percent) of teens and young adults ages 16 to 20 that died in crashes were not wearing their seat belt.
Seat belt laws vary by state, including their severity. All but New Hampshire have either primary or secondary seat belt restrictions in place (but NH does have a primary child passenger safety law that covers all drivers and passengers under age 18). Primary enforcment laws allow law enforcement officials to stop a vehicle and issue a citation strictly for not wearing a seat belt. Secondary laws allow law enforcement officials to only issue a citation if the vehicle is stopped for another violation.
The research also illustrates the long-term effectiveness of primary enforcement belt laws. Although teens in the adult-supervised "learner's permit" phase of GDL report similar seat belt use regardless of the strength of their state's belt law, they tend to buckle up less in states with sescondary enforcement belt laws as they move through the next stages of GDL (see graph).
For the sake of youth safety, states with significant resistance to enacting primary belt laws should at least consider adding a primary enforcement belt use provision to their GDL law. This provision should include all occupants in a vehicle driven by a teen through the probationary phase. For the most up-to-date information on seat belt laws by state, visit the GHSA website.