Policy Factsheet

Safety Belt Laws and Enforcement

Reasons for Policy

  • The use of safety belts is the single most effective means of reducing fatal and nonfatal injuries in motor vehicle crashes.1
  • Safety belts are approximately 45% effective in reducing fatalities in passenger cars and 60% effective in light trucks. 2
  • Overall, 71% of motor vehicle occupants in 2000 wore safety belts, but teenagers consistently report lower than average usage rates.3
  • Safety belt use is estimated to have saved 123,000 lives between 1975 and 1999, an estimated 9553 additional deaths would have been prevented in 1999 alone if all motor vehicle occupants consistently wore safety belts.4

Community Groups

  • Law Enforcement
  • Local Government
  • Local Media
  • State Government

Policy Components

  • Extend safety belt laws to rear seat coverage and all ages groups
  • Include fines for violation of laws and make into a primary enforcement law which allows a police officer to stop a motorist solely for not wearing a safety belt
  • Enhance enforcement (i.e., increasing the number of officers on patrol, increasing citations for safety belt checkpoints).
  • Increase public awareness of enforcement through media campaigns.

Desired Outcomes

  • Increase use of safety belts
  • Reduce fatal and nonfatal injuries

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

On average, safety belt laws can achieve:

  • 9% decrease in fatal injuries (Range: 2-18%).1
  • 8% decrease in fatal and nonfatal injuries combined (Range: 3-20%).1
  • 16% increase in self-reported safety belt use (Range: 13-19%).1

On average, primary enforcement relative to secondary enforcement safety belt laws can achieve incremental effectiveness of:

  • 8% decrease in fatal injuries (Range: 3-14%).1

On average, enhanced enforcement programs can achieve:

  • 16% increase in observed safety belt use (Range: 8-24%).1

Community Examples

31 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have primary seat belt laws

Minnesota’s primary seat belt law requires any age passenger, in all seating positions, must be buckled up or in a correct child restraint.

Tampa, Florida, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office conducted “Operation Belts or El$e” to enforce Florida’s new enhanced seat belt law.

Links to Policy Examples

Minnesota Statutes §§ 169.684 Seat Belt; Declaration of Policy, 169.685 Seat Belt; Passenger Restraint System for Children, 169.686 Seat Belt Use Required; Penalty

Florida Statutes § 316.614 Safety belt usage, “Florida Safety Belt Law”

Be sure to check with your state, county, and municipal governments regarding potential existing laws that may impede any new policy development.


1 Dinh-Zarr, TB, Sleet, DA, Shults, RA, Zaza, S, Elder, RW, Nichols, JL, Thompson, RS, Sosin, DM, & the Task Force on Community Preventive Services (2001). Reviews of existing evidence regarding interventions to increase the use of safety belts. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 21(4S), 48-65.

2 Evans, L (1986). The effectiveness of safety belts in preventing fatalities. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 18, 229-241.

3 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2000). Observed safety belt use from December 1999 and June 2000. MiniNOPUS. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

4 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2000). Traffic safety facts 1999: occupant protection. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2000. DOT HS 809 090.

5 Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.