Background: The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that physicians routinely counsel all patients to wear safety belts. We undertook this study to determine the prevalence of the nonuse of safety belts among internal medicine patients, to measure the association of nonuse with other health risk factors, and to ascertain the safety belt counseling practices of physicians.
Patients and methods: A total of 492 consecutive patients attending a university-based general medicine clinic were given a validated, self-administered questionnaire, and 94% responded. A medical chart review was performed in a blinded fashion on 94% of the eligible charts.
Results: Of the 454 patients who provided safety belt information, 243 (54%) did not wear safety belts. Nonusers were more likely to be problem drinkers, inactive, obese, and to have a low income (adjusted odds ratios 1.8 to 2.0). Of patients with all four of these characteristics, 91% did not use safety belts. The leading reasons for safety belt nonuse were discomfort (35%), short driving distances (24%), and forgetfulness (13%). Obese patients were more likely to report discomfort as their reason for nonuse (odds ratio 2.4; 95% confidence limit 1.4 to 4.3). Eighteen patients (3.9%) reported that a physician had ever counseled them about safety belt use. Only two of 314 medical records (0.6%) noted physician questioning or counseling about safety belt use.
Conclusions: The majority of patients attending an internal medicine clinic do not wear safety belts. Nonusers are more likely to be problem drinkers, inactive, obese, and to have a low income. Patients with multiple health risk factors are at significant risk of nonuse. The most common reason for nonuse is physical discomfort, especially among obese patients. Finally, physicians rarely counsel patients to use safety belts.