Seat belt use in the U.S. has reached an historic high of 90.1%, according to a new study released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The federal government began regular national surveys to determine seat belt usage rates in 1994.
“The best way folks can protect themselves in their cars is by wearing a seat belt,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Whether you’re a driver or passenger, in the front seat or back, the simple act of wearing a seat belt significantly reduces the risk of fatality and major injury in a crash.”
The new data comes from a large-scale observational study conducted by NHTSA in June of this year. The research shows that daytime belt use (drivers and right-front passengers of passenger vehicles from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.) reached 90.1%, a statistically significant increase from 88.5% in 2015.
The study, known as the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), is the only survey that provides nationwide probability-based observed data on seat belt use in the U.S. The NOPUS also provides data on other types of restraints, such as child restraints and motorcycle helmets, and driver electronic device use.
“Vehicles have many more safety features today than ever before, but there is nothing more important than the simple seat belt,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. "We are encouraged by this progress, but with so many people still dying in crashes because they are not wearing their seat belts, we will not rest until we reach 100%.”
Seat belts saved nearly 14,000 lives during 2015 alone and an estimated 345,000 lives since 1975, according to NHTSA. The federal agency credits state legislators for enacting stronger seat belt laws and the nation’s police officers for strong enforcement of those laws, especially during the annual national Click It or Ticket campaign.
The latest survey shows that seat belt use is higher in the West than in the other regions of the U.S., and seat belt use continued to be higher in states with primary belt use laws. Thirty-four states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have primary seat belt laws for front seat occupants, while 15 states have secondary laws. In many of these states, the law is primary for younger drivers and passengers.
Other significant increases in the past year are among drivers and passengers of vans and SUVs (from 90.3% to 92.3%), and those in rural areas (86.8% to 89.5%).
For more details about the study, click here.