The effects of primary enforcement laws and fine levels on seat belt usage in the United States

Traffic Inj Prev. 2014;15(6):640-4. doi: 10.1080/15389588.2013.857017.


Background: Seat belt use in the United States increased from 11 percent in 1979 to 86 percent in 2012. Most of this increase has been attributed to seat belt laws, primary law upgrades, and highly visible enforcement. There has been less research on the effect of fines on seat belt usage.

Methods: We examined law type and fine levels as predictors of seat belt use among fatally injured occupants of passenger vehicles from 1997 through 2008 using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS). Fine levels used were the statutory maximum base fines for a first offense.

Results: Having a primary enforcement law was associated with a 9 to 10 percentage point increase in seat belt use. An increase in the fine amount, from the current median level of $25 to a level of $60, was associated with a 3 percentage point increase in usage. An increase in fine from $25 to $100 was associated with a 6- to 7-point increase. Such increases were in addition to the effects of a shift from secondary to primary enforcement.

Discussion: The results of this study suggest that, in addition to current emphases on primary law upgrades and high-visibility enforcement of seat belt usage, increasing fine levels provides another viable strategy for increasing seat belt use. In addition, based on these results, states should consider publicizing such increases just as they publicize enforcement efforts.

Keywords: fine levels; primary enforcement laws; seat belt citations; seat belt enforcement mobilizations; seat belt usage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / mortality
  • Databases, Factual
  • Fees and Charges / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement / methods*
  • Seat Belts / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Seat Belts / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States / epidemiology