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Seat belts: Who is likely not to use them and excuses

January 7, 2012
By DAVE WERNER ( , Franklin County Traffic Safety Board

A "Did You Know" article several weeks ago reviewed the importance of seatbelt use at all times by everyone in a vehicle. This article will discuss who might not buckle up, some of the excuses they might use, and how to modify their behavior.

From the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nationwide telephone survey found the top reasons for not using a safety belt were forgetfulness, discomfort, inconvenience, low perceived risk of crashing (e.g., driving on private roads or short distances), pressure from other unbelted occupants, and lack of safety belts in the vehicle. In another survey, forgetting and driving a short distance were the most common reasons given for not wearing belts, especially for people who sometimes or often wore belts.

Drivers who rarely or never wore belts tended to cite other reasons such as discomfort. About one-third of all drivers thought safety belts were just as likely to harm as to help, and perceived harm was greater among less-frequent belt users. The youngest drivers (ages16 to 20) were most likely to think that belts were potentially harmful. All of these reasons are lame at best, or just total ignorance by some.

More survey information from the IIHS gives us some idea as to who does belt up and who might be more unlikely not to do so. Safety belt use is lowest among younger people and males. In 2009, 81 percent of 16 to 24 year olds in the front seat were observed using their belts compared with 84 percent of those 25 to 69 years old and 86 percent of those 70 and older. Eighty-seven percent of female front-seat occupants were observed using their belts compared with 81 percent of males. Belt use also is lower in the back seat. In 2009, 70 percent of rear seat occupants were observed using belts compared with 84 percent of front-seat occupants.

Research also shows that belt use is lower among occupants of older vehicles and among drivers who have consumed alcohol. In 2010, observed belt use was lowest among occupants of pickups (75 percent), compared with occupants of vans and SUVs (88 percent) and passenger cars (86 percent). Although safety belt use has increased over the years, many disparities in belt use continue. For example, in an analysis of 10 years of data on belt use among fatally injured occupants, use was consistently about 18 percentage points lower at night than during the day. Analyses of traffic and criminal records show that nighttime unbelted drivers had more previous traffic violations and criminal arrests than nighttime belted drivers and daytime drivers (belted or unbelted).

Historically, safety belt use has been lower in rural areas than in urban areas. However, in 2010, the most recent year for which observational data is available, belt use among occupants in rural areas (83 percent) was higher than among occupants in urban areas (81 percent), and use was highest in suburban areas (87 percent).

So how can we improve compliance even more? Enhanced belt reminders, where audible warnings continue longer than government requirements, have been shown to increase belt use among drivers and front seat passengers. A 2010 Institute study found that driver fatality rates were 6 percent lower in vehicles with enhanced safety belt reminders compared with vehicles without them. Gearshift interlocks prevent or delay the vehicle from being put in gear if the driver isn't buckled up, while entertainment interlocks disable the radio or entertainment system. A pilot study of commercial fleet drivers studied the effects of a safety belt reminder chime combined with a delay of 8 seconds before an unbelted driver could place the vehicle in gear. The study found the system increased safety belt use by about 20 percentage points.

Another technology involves tactile feedback. In a pilot test with a small sample of commercial drivers, unbelted drivers who drove faster than 25 mph experienced resistance of the accelerator pedal. Drivers could continue to drive faster than 25 mph without buckling up, but the pedal resistance continued until they fastened belts. The effect was an immediate increase in safety belt use to 100 percent, and the drivers found the system acceptable.


To access the more than 200 "Did You Know" articles and more information on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety, go to and click on the Traffic Safety Board under departments.



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