Primary Seat Belt Laws Helping States Reduce Traffic Deaths

Seat belts have been proven to protect the safety of drivers and passengers in traffic crashes. Yet states across the United States vary in the means police use to enforce seat belt laws.

In the United States, 34 states and the District of Columbia have implemented a primary seat belt law, meaning law enforcement has the authority to stop a vehicle for the sole reason that the driver or another occupant is unbuckled.

Fifteen other states, including Colorado, enforce a secondary law, in which law enforcement can only cite drivers when pulled over for a primary offense, such as speeding. New Hampshire is the only state with neither a primary nor a secondary seat belt law for adults.

Studies show that primary seat belt laws help reduce traffic deaths and are effective in increasing seat belt use. According to NHSTA data, in 2014, states with primary seat belt laws had an average use rate of 90 percent, while states that did not averaged 79 percent.

NHTSA data also shows if every state with a secondary seat belt law upgraded to primary enforcement, about 1,000 lives and $4 billion in crash costs could be saved every year.