Study: Higher Fines Would Convince More Motorists To Buckle Up

March 2, 2011
seatbelt wearer

seatbelt wearer

Nearly all states have laws requiring occupants to wear safety belts when in a moving vehicle. Yet about 15 percent of vehicle occupants still don't buckle up.

How do we get that remainder to buckle up and be more likely to survive an accident? Surprisingly, just introducing the threat of a fine—and raising the amount of the fine—gets more people remembering to click it.

The study, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and conducted by Bedford Research and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, confirms not only that primary seatbelt laws get more people buckled up, but that higher fines result in further gains in belt use.

When a seatbelt law was changed from a secondary law to a primary one—meaning, essentially, that motorists could be pulled over and ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt, with no other reason, such as speeding—then front seat belt use increased by 10 to 12 percentage points.

Beyond that, the amount of the fine, gets even more people to buckle up. Just by increasing the fine, from the national median of $25 up to $60, they found compliance increases 3 to 4 percentage points—and raising fines to $100 increases belt use by 6 to 7 percentage points.

The figures are from annual observational surveys conducted in each state. Among states, seatbelt use ranges from 98 percent in Michigan to just 68 percent in Wyoming (based on 2009 surveys).

But there's a sweet spot, the Institute argues. If fines are too high, then law enforcement will hesitate to enforce them. And in New Mexico and the District of Columbia, which actually assess points against seatbelt violators, the view is that this is too harsh.

What's the ideal fine amount to be supported by the public and law enforcement and get more people buckled up? About $50, according to the survey information.

What do you think? Should we get tougher with seatbelt enforcement for adults? Are the states meddling with personal choice, or are unbelted drivers a costly liability to the insurance system and our premiums?


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