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Teen Driver Seat Belt Law Statistics

Seat belt law statistics show the impact public policy can have on road safety. Teens, as both passengers and drivers,  have the lowest rate of seat belt use of any age group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many deaths and injuries to teens in crashes could have been prevented just by buckling up. In 2013 52 percent of the teens (ages 13-20 years) that died in crashes were not wearing a seat belt. When used properly, 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 and primary seat belt laws in place increase seat belt use by 10 percent, more states enacting a primary seat belt law as part of their Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program will potentially save many teen lives.

Seat belt safety laws vary by state, including their severity. All but New Hampshire have either primary or secondary seat belt restrictions in place (but New Hampshire does have a primary child passenger safety law that covers all drivers and passengers under age 18). Primary enforcement seat belt safety laws allow law enforcement officials to stop a vehicle and issue a citation strictly for not wearing a seat belt. Secondary seat belt safety laws allow law enforcement officials to only issue a citation if the vehicle is stopped for another violation.

Other Seat Belt Law Statistics
According to a CHOP study, teens who live in states with primary seat belt laws are 12 percent more likely to buckle up as drivers and 15 percent more likely to buckle up as passengers than teens from states with secondary seat belt laws. The study also found that specific groups of teens, including rural residents, African-Americans, those with low grades or attending lower-socioeconomic school districts, and drivers of pickup trucks, reported the lowest use of seat belts. However, seat belt use among these groups was higher in states with primary enforcement seat belt safety laws. 

The research also illustrates the long-term effectiveness of primary enforcement seat belt safety 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 seat belt safety laws, they tend to buckle up less in states with secondary enforcement seat belt safety 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 seat belt safety laws should at least consider adding a primary enforcement seat 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 law statistics by state, visit the GHSA website.

Buckle Up America promotes teen seat belt use.


Access more stats and facts about seat belt use.


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