Enhanced safety belt reminders increased front-seat occupant belt use by 3-4 percent compared with vehicles without them, indicates a new federal study examining systems in a wide range of vehicles. Certain types of reminders were more effective than others. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study shows that reminders reach people who don't typically buckle up and is in line with previous Institute studies of systems in Ford and Honda vehicles (see "Belt reminders in Hondas are persuading motorists to buckle up," June 13, 2006).
Boosting belt use by only a few percentage points may seem like a small feat, but the remaining nonusers and part-time belt users are the hardest to reach. Among them are drivers ages 16-24, men, people in pickup trucks, and motorists who live in states with laws that don't allow police to ticket solely for nonuse of belts. Convincing these people to buckle up will save lives because the number of unrestrained fatally injured vehicle occupants is disproportionately high. Of the 24,656 front-seat passenger vehicle occupants ages 16 and older who were killed in crashes in 2006 and for whom belt use was known, 54 percent weren't buckled up.
Belt reminders that persist beyond the 4-to-8-second warning that's required by federal standards began to prove effective when Ford and other automakers voluntarily adopted them (see "Automakers are adding more persistent reminders to buckle up," March 27, 2004). The enhanced reminders in most passenger vehicles consist of intermittent lights plus chimes or buzzers. Virtually all 2008 model passenger vehicles have some type of enhanced reminder for drivers. Eighty-seven percent have visual and audible reminders for drivers, and 75 percent have them for passengers in the front seat.
"Nearly 20 percent of front-seat occupants don't use safety belts, so we have room to improve," says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. "NHTSA's study adds to our earlier evidence that reminders can get hard-to-convince motorists to buckle up more often. We also know that drivers overwhelmingly like reminders."
NHTSA observed safety belt use among drivers and front-seat passengers in nearly 40,000 vehicles in 8 states with and without laws that allow police to issue tickets solely for not buckling up. Researchers matched tag numbers to registration records to determine vehicle identification numbers, then fed this information into a NHTSA database to determine belt reminder features like sound, icon, duration, and cycle. In addition to finding higher belt use in vehicles with enhanced reminders, the agency concluded that systems combining a recurring sound plus an icon had the most effect on driver belt use.