According to a new study released by the US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) seat belt use in the USA has reached its highest level since the Federal government began regular national surveys in 1994.
The new data, which was drawn from a large-scale observational study conducted by the NHTSA in June, shows daytime belt use of drivers and front seat passengers in cars from 7:00am to 6:00pm reached 90.1%, a statistically significant increase from 88.5% in 2015. The study, known as the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), is the only survey that provides nationwide probability-based observed data on seat belt use in the USA. The NOPUS also provides data on other types of restraints, such as child restraints and motorcycle helmets, and driver electronic device use.
Even with a higher belt use, nearly half (48%) of people killed in crashes in 2015 were not wearing their seat belt. When used properly, lap/shoulder belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat car occupants by 45%, and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%. Seat belts saved nearly 14,000 lives during 2015 alone, and an estimated 345,000 lives since 1975.
The NHTSA credits state legislators for enacting strong laws and the country’s police officers for strong enforcement of those laws, especially during the annual national ‘Click It or Ticket’ campaign. Also important was the agency’s decades-long focus on the issue, including the renowned ‘Vince and Larry’ crash test dummy public service campaign of the 80s and 90s.
The progress is the result of persistent effort by a wide range of safety partners, including: the US Congress, which provided resources, including incentive grants and support for enforcement; state highway safety officials, who mobilized and organized state enforcement and education campaigns; public health organizations, which raised awareness: and the auto and insurance industries, which supported seat belt advocacy efforts.
Of note in the latest survey is that seat belt use is higher in the West than other regions of the USA, and usage continued to be higher in the states with primary belt use laws, where vehicle occupants can be pulled over solely for not using a seat belt. Other significant increases in seat belt use over the last year are among drivers and passengers of vans and SUVs (2%), and those in rural areas (2.7%).
“The best way folks can protect themselves in their cars is by wearing a seat belt,” said US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Whether you’re a driver or passenger, in the front seat or back, the simple act of wearing a seat belt significantly reduces the risk of fatality and major injury in a crash.”
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind added, “Vehicles have many more safety features today than ever before, but there is nothing more important than the simple seat belt. We are encouraged by this progress, but with so many people still dying in crashes because they are not wearing their seat belts, we will not rest until we reach 100%.”