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Seat Belt Use by Drivers and Passengers Reaches 73 percent, NHTSA Reports

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Seat Belt Use by Drivers and Passengers Reaches 73 percent, NHTSA Reports

August 30, 2001

NHTSA 47-01
Thursday, August 30, 2001
Contact: Elly Martin
Telephone: (202) 366-9550

Seat belt use is continuing an upward trend - reaching its highest level since the federal government began regular national surveys in 1994, according to a major study released by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"We are pleased to see this historic level of seat belt use in America," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta. "An ever-increasing number of drivers and passengers in this country understand that seat belts save lives. Seat belts are the most effective safety device in a car."

The new data - drawn from a large-scale observational study conducted by NHTSA in June 2001 - show a 2 percentage-point increase in seat belt use to 73 percent in less than one year. The study, known as the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), is conducted periodically by the agency to obtain nationwide estimates of shoulder belt use and to support the agency's occupant protection programs. The last such survey was conducted in the fall of 2000, revealing a rate of 71 percent.

"The challenge of increasing seat belt use on our roadways is a critically important one. These new statistics are a very encouraging sign that we're moving in the right direction on belt use," said NHTSA Administrator, Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge.

Of special note in the latest survey were strong gains in seat belt use in the South, where the seat belt use rate rose to 76 percent, up from 69 percent last fall. This was due in large measure to increased enforcement efforts, such as "Click It or Ticket" campaigns, in that region.

Overall for the nation, more pickup truck occupants are buckling up -- the rate rose from 59 to 62 percent. However, the seat belt use rate for occupants of all passenger vehicle types slipped in the Northeast, from 67 percent to 62 percent.

Besides indicating a 2 percentage-point increase in overall seat belt use, the latest national seat belt use survey shows that:

  • Seat belt use rates in the South (76 percent), West (77 percent) and Midwest (72 percent) are now statistically similar, while the Northeast continues to lag behind (62 percent).
  • Seat belt use among passengers increased significantly to 72 percent in June 2001 from 68 percent in the fall of 2000. Overall, passengers are no longer significantly less likely to buckle up than are drivers.
  • Seat belt use rates continue to grow in states with stronger enforcement laws. Seat belt use has reached 78 percent in states with primary enforcement and 67 percent in states with secondary enforcement.

    In states with a primary seat belt law, motor vehicle occupants can be stopped and cited by law enforcement officials for failing to wear belts whether or not another violation has occurred. In states with secondary enforcement, the vehicle must be stopped for another offense before the occupant can be cited for failing to wear a belt.

    The latest NOPUS estimates were derived from a survey conducted during a seven-day period beginning on June 3, 2001. A total of 175,000 drivers and 50,000 front-seat passengers were observed for seat belt use at 2,000 roadway and intersection sites throughout the country. The margin of error for NOPUS is 2.5 percentage points.

    NHTSA gathers NOPUS statistics to obtain nationwide estimates of shoulder belt use and support the agency's motor vehicle occupant protection programs.

    Dr. Runge announced the latest statistics on seat belt use today at a Washington press conference sponsored jointly by NHTSA and the Air Bag & Seat Belt Safety Campaign.

    The newly released NHTSA statistics are contained in a research note on the agency's Website at: www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/NCSA.


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