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Status Report, Vol. 41, No. 2 | February 25, 2006 Subscribe

Two more states upgrade belt laws to allow primary enforcement

One reason the belt use rate in Pennsylvania is lower than the U.S. average is that the state's belt law is one of the weaker ones. It allows for secondary enforcement, under which police may not ticket motorists for this violation alone.

Legislators in Alaska and Mississippi recently upgraded their belt laws from secondary to primary enforcement. The new laws take effect in May. Then police may ticket motorists solely for belt violations. This brings to 25 the number of states that allow primary enforcement of safety belt laws.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that buckle-up rates were 10 percentage points higher during 2005 — 85 versus 75 percent — in states with primary laws. An Institute study estimates the lifesaving effects. Death rates declined an estimated 7 percent after belt laws in 9 states and the District of Columbia were changed during 1989-2003 to allow primary enforcement (see "Primary belt laws would save about 700 lives per year," Jan. 31, 2005).

Belt use is up but lags at night

Safety belt use has topped 80 percent for two years in a row, but two new studies confirm that the rate is lower at night. Enforcement can help raise it.

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