Effectiveness of Seat Belt Laws Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Seatbelt Laws:

Matter of Choice or Conscience?

Motor vehicle accidents are the number one killer of America's youth. Sadly, taking 5 seconds to buckle a seat belt could have prevented such senseless accidents and saved thousands of lives. While no one disagrees that seat belts do indeed save lives, statistics show that while some people do wear seat belts religiously others only wear it when it seems important (i.e. long trips) and some never buckle up. Wearing a seat belt may be considered a personal choice as some contend, however, advocates of seat belt laws point to the billions of dollars that non-users of seat belts cost the rest of the population. Survey results reveal that while people generally favor seat belt laws, they do not support laws that are too invasive of ones personal privacy. Requiring citizens to buckle up is an invasion of ones personal choice, depending on the law one or all passengers may be required to wear a seat belt. A violation of this rule may result in fines or even the driver loosing points off of his or her license. However, even though the choice to wear a seat belt is a personal one, if affects all of society. Not only is society paying the monetary costs of non-usage of seat belts, our citizens are paying with their lives.

The Effectiveness of Seatbelt Laws


Motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of death for people ages 6 to 27, and the main cause of death by injury for all ages, claiming about 41,000 lives per year. Advocates of mandatory seatbelt laws contend that the proper use of seatbelts can decrease the number of accident related deaths significantly. It is also estimated that motor vehicle injuries cost over 300 billion dollars in year in health expenses, business expenses, insurance costs, legal costs as well as societal costs. Seat belt safety has become such an important issue that in 1997 former President Bill Clinton issued an executive order requiring all Federal employees to wear seatbelts while on the job. The order even extends to free agents under contract by the Federal government.

Statement of Problem

Contrary to the mounds of evidence suggesting that the simple act of wearing a seatbelt can save your life, there are many who feel that laws requiring the usage of seatbelts are a violation of personal freedoms. Some opponents of mandatory seat belt laws believe that if the justification for seatbelt laws and so on is that they're for your own good, the same argument can be made about such things as dietary habits and exercise. They oppose such laws because a very important principle is at stake: That entirely personal choice is none of the government's business -- just as diet, exercise habits, and other personal choices that may somewhat increase (or decrease) exposure to risk/danger are likewise none of the government's business, either. The dispute over laws requiring seatbelt use is not on the basis of safety, almost everyone agrees that seatbelts can prevent injury and/or death. Rather, opponents point to the issue of personal choice. Arguably, how people perceive mandatory seatbelt laws also reflect ones attitude and value system that is shaped by their environment, knowledge and experience. Additionally, support for seat belt laws vary among age, race and sex. The extent or as some may call the degree of invasiveness of the law also is a factor in how well people accept the laws.

Purpose of Study

The focus of this study is to reveal how the acceptance of seat belt laws varies across racial, gender and age. Furthermore, this study also analyzes how people respond to mandatory seatbelts laws based on knowledge and experience. For example, is a person less likely to positively receive laws requiring seatbelt use if those they respect and admire (parents) did not wear them? Additionally, of those who favor seatbelt laws to what extent is their support. Do those who support front seat laws support back seat laws as well, and vice versa? How can such fluctuations in support for these laws be explained? This study will shed light on why we witness variations advocacy for seat belt legislation.


What explains differences in support among people for seat belt laws when seatbelts obviously have life saving capacities? Varying attitudes for seat belt laws are based upon influence from the environment, perceptions and experiences. Segmentation among ethnic, gender and age are based on the above three factors to some extent as well.


The primary limitation of this study is the number of observations also called the number of people surveyed. About four thousand adults were surveyed, adults being those 16 and older. This amount of people is hardly enough to make conclusions for the entire population. Another limitation of the study is that sampling error, bias and other statistical errors in measurement remain unaccounted for.

Definition of Terms

Below are a few terms that are used quite often throughout this paper. I will present the definition for these terms here so as to avoid confusion and redundancy.

Primary Seat belt Laws- Laws requiring that drivers of a motor vehicle be buckled up at all times. If a driver is not properly seat belted, they are at risk of receiving a ticket as if it were any other traffic violation. Currently, seventeen states and the Washington, D.C. has such laws in place.

Secondary Seat belt Laws- States that drivers can be ticketed for non-wearing of a seat belt if they have been stopped for another violation, such laws are active in 32 states. For example, if a man is stopped for speeding and is he is not wearing a seat belt he may receive a speeding ticket and a ticket for not wearing his seat belt. However, he cannot be stopped for not wearing his seatbelt only.

Part Time Users- people who believe that seat belts reduce the severity of injury in motor vehicle crashes but who believe that they are not at risk when driving on short, familiar, low speed trips.

Non-Users- Consist of only 5 to 10% of the population, but are the most difficult to convert to seat belt use. High-risk drivers are most typically non-users of seat belts. They are more likely than others to drive after drinking, to be involved in a serious crash, and are also the least likely to be responsible for the social and economic consequences of their behavior.

Full Time Users- Almost three-quarters of Americans say they are full-time users. However, of these, almost 10% acknowledge that they did not use their seat belts on at least one occasion during the past week and studies have shown that self-reported seat belt use is 12 to 25 percentage points higher than observed use.

Advocates for Seat belt Laws

The traditional argument for laws requiring the mandatory use of seat belts cities the life-saving aspect of wearing a seat belt. Advocates say that by taking 5 seconds to buckle-up, you may save the rest of your life. In addition to the effects of non-use of seat belts being qualified, the effects have been quantified as well. It is estimated that taxpayers shell out over 14.3 million dollars per year to cover injuries related to the non-use of seat belts while driving. Advocates also cite studies indicating that well meaning drivers who do buckle up actually pay for those drivers who opt not to use their seat belts. High health insurance, automobile insurance premiums are can be in part blamed on individuals who choose not to use restraints. These studies rebuke the statement by many who claim that their non-use of seatbelts does not affect any one but themselves.

Children's Safety.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for the mandatory wearing of seat belts is for the safety of the children. Such measures extend to older children as well, which is fairly new as earlier pressures concerned mainly the welfare of young children. In the state of Washington, Governor Gary Locke put into affect a law requiring booster seats be used for older children. The Law called Anton's Law, which is named for a young boy who was killed in a collision even though he was wearing the standard shoulder and lap belt. Joe Loera, Providence Hospital Intensive Care Nurse stated that "The injuries that we see in the emergency room when booster seats are not used include damage to the internal organs such as shearing -- which is a tearing -- of the liver, and ruptures to the abdominal arteries and aorta. Injuries to the neck might include a torn or crushed trachea, and damage to the jugular vein." It is these types of preventable injuries that advocates of seat belt laws believe can be reduced or even completely eliminated. The harsh reality is that collisions are the number one killer of children age 14 and under; the statistics are even less favorable when segmented into ethnic groups. A study conducted by Johns…

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