Study: Only 42% of Teen Passengers Report Wearing Seat Belts

August 27, 2008

A new study on teen driving habits and safety found that 59 percent of teens always buckled up in the driver seat but only 42 percent always wore seat belts as passengers. However, only 38 percent of all teens in the study reported always buckling up as both drivers and passengers.

Researchers from the Meharry-State Farm Alliance at Meharry Medical College say the lack of seat belt use by teen passengers is a big problem.

“Because seat belts can reduce the risk of injury and death in crashes by more than 50 percent, there is a critical need for interventions to increase seat belt use by teens as both drivers and passengers,” said Nathaniel Briggs, MD, MSc, lead researcher on the study, published in the September 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, accounting for nearly 5,000 fatalities each year. About 40 percent of all teen motor vehicle occupant deaths involve passengers.

Additionally, the researchers pointed out a need for targeted interventions that address those teen subpopulations least likely to wear seat belts regardless of whether they are drivers or passengers, including young men, African Americans, students experiencing academic difficulties, and those with a history of either drinking and driving or riding with a drinking driver.

To address the issue, Briggs and his colleagues recommend a combination of approaches.

— Upgrade state seat belt laws to uniformly require that teen motor vehicle occupants in the rear seat be secured in seat belts. Currently, the majority of state laws are limited to front seat coverage for some or all teens in the 16-19 age group.

— Upgrade state seat belt laws from “secondary” (law enforcement officers can ticket motorists for seat belt law violations only after stopping them for another offense) to “primary” (law enforcement officers can stop and ticket motorists solely for seat belt law violations).

— Enhance enforcement efforts directed toward teen motorists.

— Develop comprehensive, community-based interventions including education, peer-to-peer persuasion, and parental monitoring.

“This research reinforces why State Farm is actively involved in advocating for laws that help prevent injuries and deaths resulting from motor vehicle crashes. It’s clear from these findings that primary seat belt laws for all occupants would help us accomplish that goal,” said Laurette Stiles, Vice-President – Strategic Resources at State Farm.

The Meharry-State Farm Alliance study population comprised over 12,000 African American, white, and Hispanic public and private high school students ages 16 or older who participated in the 2001 and 2003 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveys. The surveys are conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the leading causes of death and disability among U.S. teens.

The Meharry-State Farm Alliance, established in 2002, is a collaboration of the historically black academic health sciences center and the nation’s largest automobile insurer in an effort to save lives on the nation’s highways. It engages in scholarly research, education, community outreach, and public policy initiatives to advocate for an increase in the appropriate and consistent use of seat belts. It focuses primarily on African American populations that suffer disproportionate rates of preventable deaths and injuries due to their failure to buckle up, especially youth, seniors, and urban motorists.

Source: Meharry-State Farm Alliance

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