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[Study] Does Seat Belt Use Impact Fatal Crash Rates?

April 1, 2020 |

Wearing your seat belt every time you enter a vehicle is one of the easiest choices you can make. Regardless if you are entering an automobile as a passenger or driver, deciding to buckle up is the smartest choice as it lowers the risk of injuries.

According to the CDC, seat belt use reduces the risk of death by 45%, and 50% of serious injury for drivers and front-seat passengers.  Seat belt usage prevents passengers from being ejected during a crash, so those who do not wear one in an automobile are 30 times more likely to eject.

does seat belt use reduce fatal crashes

Cannon & Dunphy S.C.’s personal injury lawyers are advocates aiming to promote road safety. We’ve teamed with the data visualization and consumer safety advocacy firm, Safer America, to analyze our previous two studies: 2018 Fatal Crash Rates & Seat Belt Usage in the U.S. to determine whether or not state seat belt laws affect the rates in car accident fatalities.

 Seat belt laws change rapidly and depend on which state you reside in. The interactive map shows which seat belt laws (primary, secondary, or neither) each state currently follows. If you live in a state that follows a Primary enforcement law, this allows police officers to pull you over and give a ticket for strictly not wearing a seat belt. On the other hand, Secondary enforcement law only allows police officers to pull you over for a separate traffic violation (speeding, broken headlight, etc) and then ticket you for also not wearing a seatbelt.

Primary vs. the Secondary Law States

As you can see, most of the states in the United States follow a primary enforcement law for adults. There a total of 35 states (including Washington D.C.) that follow the primary enforcement law for front-seat occupants, Utah being the latest state to follow it. Contrary, there are a total of 15 states that follow the secondary enforcement law for front-seat occupants.

Primary States

The primary state laws are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas,  Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

Secondary States

These states are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.

New Hampshire is the only current state without a seat belt use law.

Does Each State’s Seat Belt Law Affect Its Fatal Crash Rate?

*2018 fatal crash rates expressed per 100,000 people in each state.

State or U.S. Territory 2017 Seatbelt Use Rate 2018 Fatal Crash Rate Seatbelt State Laws (Adults) In What Seat Do These Laws Apply? (Adults)
Alabama 92.90% 17.92 Primary (as of 9/1/19) All
Alaska 90.10% 9.36 Primary All
Arizona 86.10% 12.77 Secondary Front
Arkansas 81.00% 15.66 Primary Front
California 96.20% 8.24 Primary All
Colorado 83.80% 10.32 Secondary Front
Connecticut 90.30% 7.73 Primary Front
Delaware 91.40% 10.75 Primary All
District of Columbia 93.60% 4.27 Primary All
Florida 90.20% 13.69 Primary Front
Georgia 97.10% 13.38 Primary All
Hawaii 96.90% 7.74 Primary All
Idaho 81.20% 12.09 Secondary All
Illinois 93.80% 7.44 Primary All
Indiana 93.00% 11.57 Primary All
Iowa 91.40% 9.22 Primary Front
Kansas 82.00% 12.57 Primary Front
Kentucky 86.80% 14.86 Primary All
Louisiana 87.10% 15.36 Primary All
Maine 88.90% 9.56 Primary All
Maryland 92.10% 7.84 Primary All
Massachusetts 73.70% 4.97 Secondary All
Michigan 94.10% 9.05 Primary Front
Minnesota 92.00% 6.22 Primary All
Mississippi 78.80% 19.99 Primary All
Missouri 84.00% 13.84 Secondary Front
Montana 78.00% 15.81 Secondary All
Nebraska 85.90% 10.42 Secondary Front
Nevada 90.60% 9.89 Secondary All
New Hampshire 67.60% 9.88 No Law N/A
New Jersey 94.10% 5.89 Primary All
New Mexico 91.50% 16.7 Primary All
New York 93.40% 4.55 Primary Front
North Carolina 91.40% 12.72 Primary All
North Dakota 79.30% 12.5 Secondary Front
Ohio 82.80% 8.52 Secondary Front
Oklahoma 86.90% 15.29 Primary Front
Oregon 96.80% 10.74 Primary All
Pennsylvania 85.60% 8.61 Secondary Front
Rhode Island 88.30% 5.3 Primary All
South Carolina 92.30% 19.08 Primary All
South Dakota 74.80% 12.47 Secondary Front
Tennessee 88.50% 14.39 Primary Front
Texas 91.90% 11.51 Primary All
Utah 88.80% 7.5 Primary All
Vermont 84.50% 9.58 Secondary All
Virginia 85.30% 9.13 Secondary Front
Washington 94.80% 6.6 Primary All
West Virginia 89.70% 14.67 Primary Front
Wisconsin 89.40% 9.12 Primary All
Wyoming 84.80% 17.31 Secondary All

The data table above looks at each state’s seat belt use rate from 2017, its 2018’s fatal crash rate, their seat belt laws, and where the law applies in the vehicle (front seats or backseats).

So, does seatbelt use directly affect fatal crashes? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. 

Key Takeaways:

  • On average, states with over over 90 percent observed seatbelt usage had fatal crash rates that were 15.5 percent lower than those with lesser rates of seatbelt use
  • Primary seat belt laws increase seat belt usage overall
  • Higher rates of seat belt usage correlate to lower fatal crash rates

Overall, the primary enforcement state laws average 83% seat belt usage while the secondary states average 75%, according to NHTSA.

Always Wear Your Seat Belt

The action of wearing your seat belt every time you enter a car is effortless. That is why it is wise to do so, regardless if it is not legally required. Here are a few safety benefits of wearing a seat belt:

  • Provides safety to all passengers in the vehicle
  • Designed to work with airbags in the event of an impact
  • May prevent a ticket for not wearing one
  • Proven to reduce the risks of severe injuries and death in accidents

Our Milwaukee, WI personal injury attorneys strongly encourage you all to always prioritize your safety on the road. Minimize the risk of being injured, and buckle up.

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