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Seat Belt Laws
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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), and the consequences are deadly. In 2015 more than half of teens that died in crashes were not wearing a seat belt. New York was the first state to enact seat belt laws in 1984, and many states soon followed. By 1996, every state, with the exception of New Hampshire, had a mandatory seat belt use law covering drivers and front-seat occupants.

Seat belt laws vary by state, including their severity. Primary enforcement seat belt laws allow law enforcement officials to stop a vehicle and issue a citation strictly for not wearing a seat belt. Secondary seat belt laws allow law enforcement officials to only issue a citation if the vehicle is stopped for another violation.

According to research conducted at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), 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 laws. 

The research also illustrates the long-term effectiveness of primary enforcement seat belt laws. Although teens in the adult-supervised learner's permit phase of Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) report similar seat belt use regardless of the strength of their state's seat belt laws, they tend to buckle up less in states with secondary enforcement seat belt laws as they move through the next stages of GDL.

Primary Seat Belt Laws For GDL

For the sake of youth safety, states with significant resistance to enacting primary seat belt laws should consider adding a primary enforcement seat belt use provision to their GDL program. This provision should include all occupants in a vehicle driven by a teen through the probationary license phase. For the most up-to-date information on seat belt laws by state, visit the GHSA website.

Other strategies to increase seat belt use include:

  • Making seat belt laws apply to everyone in the car, not just those in the front seat.
  • Making fines for not wearing a seat belt high enough to be effective.
  • Supporting seat belt laws with visible police presence and awareness campaigns for the public.
  • Educating the public to make seat belt use a social norm.

Learn the facts to promote seat belt use with your family.

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