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Seat belt use among African Americans, Hispanics, and Whites

Wells, JoAnn K.; Williams, Allan F.; Farmer, Charles M.
Accident Analysis and Prevention
July 2002

Objectives: This study investigated seat belt use among White, Black, and Hispanic drivers, in cities in which standard enforcement of the belt use law is permitted (primary enforcement) and in cities in which a motorist has to be first cited for another offense (secondary enforcement). Socioeconomic and gender differences in belt use were also studied.
Methods: Belt use observations were obtained at gas stations in Boston, Chicago, Houston, and New York City. In short interviews with drivers, information on race/ethnicity and education was obtained.
Results: Belt use was higher in primary enforcement cities, among women, and among those with at least a college degree. In primary law cities there were no clear differences in belt use by race/ethnicity; in secondary cities African Americans were less likely than Whites or Hispanics to be belted, among populations both with and without college degrees. This is consistent with data from other studies indicating that African Americans are more sensitive than Whites to the enforcement of primary laws and are more likely to increase belt use when states shift from secondary to primary. There has been no evidence of enforcement bias against African Americans--increases in citations generally have been greater among Whites than African Americans once primary enforcement is implemented.
Conclusions: More widespread application of primary laws--standard throughout the world but in only 17 US states and the District of Columbia--would increase belt use for all drivers, especially African Americans.