Seatbelt Safety Essay Research Paper Introduction The

Seatbelt Safety Essay, Research Paper


The hazards of life in earlier times, even a few decades ago, were much greater than those of today. Human ingenuity and modern technology have made life safer, more comfortable, and longer by reducing the risk with which mankind must contend; but reducing risk is not without its own risk. Automatic restraints are required to be equipped in all 1990 and newer model passenger cars per Federal regulations (Transportation, 1990). This implementation of automatic safety belts does not come without its risk, oppositions claim that these belts can be deadly. This study addresses safety belt usage on a college campus in cars with automatic belts versus manual lap belts, and whether gender differences increase or decrease usage, and if legislation and enforcement fluctuate usage. A survey will be administered to college students that they might provide some explanation to the above questions.

Literature Review

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among people age 5 to 34 and are responsible for more than 2 million disabling injuries per year (Sleet, 1984). Numerous studies have shown that safety belts substantially reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents. Despite the incontrovertible evidence and the simplicity of the protective action, wearing rates are low in the absence of legislation requiring safety belt use. Even where legislation has been introduced, the evidence suggests that initially high wearing rate, but without highly publicized enforcement, however, most state use rates stabilized at about 40 – 50% (Administration, 1996). Public information and education programs without accompanying enforcement have been ineffective in changing post law stabilization rates. Because the consistent use of a vehicle safety belt would likely reduce fatalities and injuries from vehicle crashes by at least 50% (Federal Register, 1983), the large-scale promotion of safety belt use is an urgent and critical target for primary prevention in public health.

Research has found that from 1980 to 1990, safety belt use among passenger vehicle drivers in the United States increased from 11% to 49%; in 1990, the use of safety belts prevented approximately 4,800 deaths and 120,000 serious injuries among front seat occupants (Center for Disease Control, 1991). The increase use of safety belts from 1984 through 1990 was associated primarily with the enactment of state laws. In recent years, however, the rate of increase has declined. To increase safety belt use in the United States, in February 1991, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) initiated the “70% by ‘92″ program to increase safety belt use to 70% by the end of 1992 through emphasis on enforcement efforts combined with public awareness campaigns. These campaigns though favorable aren’t without objection. The Institution for Injury Reduction filed a petition stating that “car owners should be warned that the automatic seat belts in their vehicles could become death stapes.” The group’s petition to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Jerry Curry followed recent car crash deaths in which the automatic shoulders harness was in place, but the manual lap belt was unbuckled. NHTSA says only 30% of persons who use the belt system buckle the lap belt. In one crash, the front passenger was decapitated by her automatic shoulder harness, according to an investigation by Clasp Corp., a Buffalo, N.Y. company hired by NHTSA. Her lap belt was not buckled. Given the whole situation by all standards the benefits outweigh the risk, yet in doing my survey there are still a great deal of people that “never” wear their safety belts.

An observational survey supported the theory that automatic safety belts increase the use of the shoulder belts but not in the manual lap belts. In 1987, Allan F. Williams indicated in his survey that several major automobile manufacturers all had automatic shoulder belt use rates of around 90%. These rates of use of shoulder belts were about 25 – 35% higher than shoulder belts in the same cars with manual belts (Williams, 1989). However, in cars with automatic belts that had manual lap belts, only about half of the drivers were using the lap belt. Based on this data and estimates of safety belt effectiveness from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the automatic belt systems achieved very high rates of use and also a greater reduction in fatalities than that of manual belts.

Theory and Hypotheses

Though deemed uncomfortable and ineffective to some, the majority surveyed felt that safety belts are effective and they wear them “always”. One of my theories concords that of William’s; automatic safety belts will increase in usage versus manual safety belts. H1: When in an automobile with automatic safety belts you are not expected to take it off, therefore increasing usage. H2: Safety belts are more likely to be worn by women when compared to men. H3: Increasing law enforcement would increase compliance with safety belt laws.

Methods and Design

A self-administered questionnaire was used in this study. Response rates for this type of questionnaire are close to 100% and present few major problems. There are some disadvantages to surveys, such as it is hard to motivate respondent to answer carefully, to not omit questions and to follow directions, to complete questionnaires, yet this cannot outweigh the advantages. Surveys are the cheapest, easiest to administer, there is no interview bias and it appears to be more anonymous when compared to face to face interviews. In a self-administered questionnaire reliability can become a problem if your subjects don’t answer honestly, though validity may become an issue if the questions are not worded properly. The units of analysis in this study were the individual UCR students selected at random: the first twenty people, 10 women, 10 men to enter the parking lot going to their vehicles. All the individuals in the study were ensured of their confidentiality through the clear instructions on the questionnaire and verbally when administered to them.


Univariate Analysis – The results in the questionnaire concluded that law enforcement has not been a carrying factor in increasing safety belt usage, providing only 15 percent/3 out of the 20 people surveyed have ever received a safety belt ticket. Considering the fact that taking all the people surveyed 30 percent/12 out of the 40 total surveys “never” wear their safety belts and 35 percent/14 of the 40 total surveyed would equally “sometimes” and “always” wear it.

Univariate Table 1 Univariate Table 2

Safety Belt Tickets Received Totals of Safety Belt Usage

Yes 15% Always 35%

No 85% Sometimes 35%

100% = (20) Never 30%

100% = (40)

As stated previously there was an increase in safety belt usage in 1984 through 1990 that was associated with the enactment of the state safety belt laws, but recently the rates are steadily declining. Without through law enforcement of this issue buckling up is not a top priority when in a vehicle.

Bivariate Analysis – This survey concluded when wearing an automatic safety belt only 25 percent/5 out of 20, people surveyed “never” wear them versus wearing a manual belt 45 percent/9 out of 20 people would “never” wear them. The results of people that “always” wear their safety belt, in automatic 40 percent/8 out of 20, in manuals 20 percent/4 out of 20. The distribution of people who would only wear their safety belts “sometimes” was the same for both automatic and manual, 35 percent/7 out of the 20 people surveyed. It is clear that providing an automatic safety belt increases shoulder belt use to varying degrees, when compared with manual belt systems, and decreases lap belt use. The data from the parking lot survey indicate that automatic belts tend to be used only slightly more than manual belts. The slight increase probably occurs because the automatic belt is somewhat easier to use in a manual mode than the regular manual belt system due to the location of the belt and other features. In most all cars with automatic belt systems most also have manual lap belts, which are used less than are lap belts in cars in which manual belts are provided. The extent to which lower use rates for lap belts limits the protection provided by the increased use of shoulder belts is not known within this survey but is an issue that should definitely be expanded on.

The issue of gender differences supports that of my hypotheses, of the women surveyed 45 percent/9 out of 20 cases wore their belts “always” as opposed to only 15 percent/3 out of 20 cases in men. Women would also better men in “sometimes” usage at 45 percent/9 out of 20 cases against 25 percent/5 out of 20. Men were a high 60 percent/12 out of 20 cases that would “never” wear their belts opposing a low for women at 10 percent/2 out of 20 cases.

Bivariate Table 1

Safety Belt Usage Reported by Type of Belt

Type of Safety Belt

Automatic Manual

Usage of Belt

Always 8 4

Sometimes 7 7

Never 5 9

Bivariate Table 2

Safety Belt Usage Reported by Gender

Gender of Surveyor

Man Woman

Usage of Belt

Always 3 9

Sometimes 5 9

Never 12 2


The belt use rates observed in this survey at the university during lunch hours are probably not typical of the general population. It is not known how the differences in use rates among the belt systems observed in this survey will change as these vehicles age and are owned and driven by a more demographically diverse population. The extent to which lower use rates for lap belts limits the protection provided by the increased use of shoulder belts cannot be shown throughout this survey.

Manual belt systems and easily detached automatic belts would be expected to have lower use rates as the cars age and the driver demographics change, while nondetachable automatic belts, may show less reduction because their disconnection would require permanent modifications of the vehicle. However, further research on vehicles with automatic belts would be needed to verify this hypothesis. Once again, you have to weigh the benefits as well as the risk, in order to level out, to form a base for stabilization in our modern society.


Center for Disease Control. (1991). Increased safety belts use – United States. Journal of the American Medical Association:Washington.

Federal Register. (1983). Federal motor vehicle safety standards.

U.S. Department of Transportation:Washington, D.C..

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (1996). So how effective are seatbelts and airbags? (Official Survey). NHTSA:Washington.

Sleet, D. A. (1984). A preventive health orientation in safety belt and child safety seat use. Society of Automotive Engineers:Penn.

Williams, A. F. (1989). Mandatory seat belt use laws and occupant crash protection in the U.S.. Auburn House:Massachusetts.

U.S. Department of Transportation. (1990). Federal motor vehicle safety standard 208. Automatic safety restraints. USDT:Washington D.C..



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