How does the U.S. boost belt use to 90 percent or better in every state? Click It or Ticket remains a powerful tool. Reinvigorating programs in states with low belt use rates and adopting primary belt laws should help. Enhanced belt reminders are another way to convince holdouts to buckle up.
"We've had lots of success with Click It or Ticket, it's just that the gains have slowed," Institute president Adrian Lund says. "The national belt use rate in 2008 was only 1 percentage point higher than it was in 2007. It's clear that some states need to bolster their efforts. Governors should make achieving universal belt use a priority. Then law enforcement officers should follow through by routinely enforcing belt laws every time they make a traffic stop, even in states with secondary laws."
Another tool is passage of primary laws by the 19 states that don't have them. Surveys consistently show strong support for primary enforcement (see "Drivers opt for more, not less, safety belt law enforcement," Jan. 11, 2003). A recent one in the Journal of Safety Research by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services found that 61 percent of residents polled favor strengthening this rural state's belt law to allow primary enforcement. The results mesh with National Safety Council research between 1996 and 2005 finding that more than 60 percent of Americans support primary belt laws.
Other Western countries have successfully used a combination of driver license points, fines, and primary enforcement to achieve high belt use rates. Violations of primary laws in Canada and Australia, for example, carry hefty fines and license demerit points. Canada's national belt use rate is about 93 percent, and Australia's is about 95 percent. In the U.S., only the District of Columbia and New Mexico assign points for belt violations. Both have 90 percent or higher use rates.
Some motorists simply refuse to use belts, even in jurisdictions with the best laws, tough penalties, and aggressive enforcement. There's evidence this group of holdouts can be swayed by in-vehicle technology reminding them to fasten belts.
"It's especially hard to get holdouts to buckle up," Lund says. "They're the ones who have known for years that they should use belts but still haven't done it."
Most 2008 or later model passenger vehicles have enhanced safety belt reminders with lights or chimes or buzzers that activate when the driver belt isn't fastened. About 75 percent of these models have enhanced belt reminders for the front passenger seat, as well. These enhanced reminders increase front seat occupant belt use by 3-4 percent compared with vehicles that don't have them (see "Reminders are effective in persuading holdouts to buckle their safety belts," June 9, 2008). A recent Institute study showed that reminders also are effective for teenage drivers (see Status Report special issue: teenage drivers, May 7, 2009). A new Institute study indicates they help reduce driver fatalities.