Injuries suffered in car accidents are often more severe, if not fatal when drivers and passengers fail to use seatbelts. In response, most states have ramped up their efforts to enforce seatbelt laws.
For many states, seat belt laws are divided into two categories: primary enforcement and secondary enforcement. Primary enforcement permits police officers to pull over motorists and cite them for specifically failing to wear seatbelts. Secondary laws allow law enforcement to issue tickets for seatbelt infractions if drivers are already being cited for another traffic infraction.
Thirty-four states (including Oklahoma) and Washington DC have primary enforcement laws for drivers and passengers traveling in the front seat.
The National Bureau of Economic Research and Stanford University confirm a definitive link between both types of mandatory seatbelt laws and reductions in traffic fatalities. Specific data shows that a single percentage point increase in seatbelt use can save 136 lives annually.
Other research backs up those findings. Motor vehicle injuries decreased when California upgraded its seat belt law from secondary to primary. In 2006, the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management revealed that states with primary enforcement laws show lower vehicle fatality rates than their secondary law counterparts.
Over time, the driving habits of Americans have changed. Today, ninety percent are buckling up compared to 71 percent in 2000. According to a recent McGill University study, all states that have upgraded from secondary to primary laws saw an estimated 0.22 fewer deaths per 100,000 than states that keep secondary statutes in place.
That number may seem negligible. However, injuries have been reduced and lives are being saved in spite of inattentive or impaired drivers sharing the roads with those putting safety first.