Problem: In the United States, teenage drivers have a higher crash risk and lower observed seat belt use than other age groups.
Method: Seat belt use was examined for teenage (16-19 years) drivers who were fatally injured in traffic crashes occurring in the United States during the years 1995-2000. Vehicle, driver, and crash factors potentially related to belt use were examined. State differences in belt use rates among fatally injured teenage drivers were related to states' observed belt use rates for all ages and other state-level variables.
Results: During 1995-2000, mean belt use was 36% among fatally injured teenage drivers and 23% among fatally injured teenage passengers. One of the strongest predictors of higher belt use for both drivers and passengers was whether the crash occurred in a state with a primary seat belt law. Belt use rates for 1995-2000 for fatally injured teenage drivers ranged from 20% or less in six states to more than 60% in two states. States with the highest use rates were those with strong primary belt use laws and those with high rates of observed belt use for all ages. Lower belt use among fatally injured teenage drivers was associated with increasing age; male drivers; drivers of SUVs, vans, or pickup trucks rather than cars; older vehicles; crashes occurring late at night; crashes occurring on rural roadways; single vehicle crashes; and drivers with BACs of 0.10 or higher. Teenage driver belt use declined as the number of teenage passengers increased, but increased in the presence of at least one passenger 30 years or older.
Impact on traffic safety: It is suggested that to increase teenage belt use, states should enact strong primary belt use laws and mount highly publicized efforts to enforce these laws. Graduated driver licensing systems should incorporate strong provisions that require seat belt use by teenage drivers and passengers.