Strong Belt Laws Boost Use by Teens

This article originated in the May/June 2012 issue of Safe Ride News.

A study by The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and State Farm insurance shows that teens who drive in states with primary seat belt law enforcement are more likely to buckle up than those in states with secondary enforcement.* It also found that teens buckle up more often while driving (82 percent) than as passengers (69 percent).

The study looked at a nationally representative sample of over 3,000 high school students.  It found that teens in primary-law states buckled up 12 percent more often as drivers and 15 percent more often as passengers when compared to those in secondary-law states.

The study found that the type of seat belt law influenced whether teens buckled up as they passed through the stages of graduated driver’s licensing (GDL).  “Teens in the learner’s permit phase of licensure reported similar belt use, regardless of whether their state had a primary or secondary law,” noted Felipe J. Garcia-Espana, Ph.D., co-author of the study and a researcher at CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention, “but driver seat belt use declined to 69 percent in secondary-law states as teens advanced to an unrestricted license, while seat belt use remained relatively steady at 82 percent in states with primary laws.”

Seat belt use was lower among specific groups of teens, including those in rural areas, African-Americans, those driving pick-ups, and those with low grades or attending schools in lower socioeconomic districts. However, belt use was higher even in these groups in states with primary enforcement.


J. Felipe García-España, et al. “Safety Belt Laws and Disparities in Safety Belt Use Among US High-School Drivers.” American Journal of Public Health. June 2012: Vol. 102, No. 6, pp. 1128-1134.