Seat Belt Use

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016

Key facts about seat belt use

• From 2002 to 2016, the percentage of children younger than age 8 observed using seat belts or other safety restraints increased slightly, from 88 to 91 percent; Over the same period, the percentage for children ages 8 to 15 increased from 82 to 90 percent, and the percentage for children ages 16 to 24 from 69 to 87 percent.
• Among children younger than age 8, infants have a higher rate of safety restraint use than children ages 1 to 3 and ages 4 to 7 (97, 94, and 88 percent, respectively, in 2015).
• In 2016, 92 percent of children younger than age 8 used seat belts or other safety restraints in cars where the driver was using a seatbelt, compared with 68 percent where the driver was not using a seat belt.

Trends in seat belt use

The percentage of youth ages 16 to 24 using seat belts increased from 53 percent in 1994 to 81 percent in 2009. This proportion remained steady until 2013 and then increased slightly to 87 percent in 2016 (Appendix 1).
From 2002 to 2010, the percentage of children ages 8 to 15 years old using safety restraints fluctuated between 81 and 84 percent. However, the proportion has increased since then, and was at 90 percent in 2016 (Appendix 1).
For children younger than age 8, after a dip from 2002 to 2004, the percentage using safety restraints increased, from 82 percent in 2004 to 91 percent in 2016. (Appendix 1) Among infants, the percentage observed using restraints increased from 88 percent in 1994 to 99 percent in 2002, though most of this increase was in the 1990s. In 2015 (the latest year for which data are available), the proportion was 97 percent (Appendix 1).

Differences by age

Among children younger than age 8, the youngest children are most likely to use seat belts or restraints. In 2015, 97 percent of infants, 94 percent of children ages 1 to 3, and 88 percent of children ages 4 to 7 used a safety seat, seat belt, or other restraint. [1] Among older children and youth, 91 percent ages 8 to 15 and 86 percent ages 16 to 24 used seat belts in 2015 (Appendix 1).

Differences by race/Hispanic origin

A nationwide study of children ages birth to 12 who died as occupants in motor vehicle accidents found that non-Hispanic black and Hispanic children were less likely to be using safety restraints than non-Hispanic white children. [2] While more research is required, this disparity could reflect the inability to afford reliable vehicles or inadequate outreach efforts to these groups.

Differences by driver and vehicle characteristics

Children are more likely to use seatbelts or other restraints when riding in a car where the driver is using a seat belt. In 2016, 92 percent of children younger than age 8 used seat belts or other restraints in cars where the driver was wearing a seatbelt, compared with 68 percent where the driver was not using a seat belt. Around 90 percent of children riding in a car with a female driver were using safety restraints, compared to 93 percent of children riding in a car with a male driver. Children riding in vans or SUVs had a higher rate of using safety restraints (94 percent) than children in pickup trucks (91 percent) and passenger cars (87 percent) (Appendix 1).

Differences by region

In 2016, among children younger than 8, children living in the South were had the lowest rate of safety restraint use (90 percent) and children in the Midwest had the highest rate (93 percent). Children in the Northeast and West were in the middle (92 and 91 percent, respectively) (Appendix 1). Regional disparities were also apparent for older children: in 2003 (the most recent data available), only about half (49 percent) of children ages 8 to 15 living in the South wore a seat belt when riding in the front seat, compared with 88 percent of children in the Northeast. [3]

Other estimates

State and local estimates

Trend estimates of the percentage of high school students who reported they never or rarely wore seat belts (while riding in a car driven by someone else) are available from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) at https://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Results.aspx.

Data and appendices

Data source

• Age-specific data for children under age 8 for 2009-2015: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2010-2016). The 2009-2015 National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/#/PublicationList/20.
• All other data for 2009-2016 and data for children and youth ages 8 to 24 for 2002-2009: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2010-2018). Occupant restraint use in 2009-2016: Results from the NOPUS controlled intersection study [Tables 1 and 5]. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/#/PublicationList/18.
• Age-specific data for children under age 8 for 2007-2008: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2009). Child restraint use in 2008: Use of correct restraint types (DOT HS 811 132). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811132.pdf.
• All other data for 2002-2008: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (2003-2009). Child restraint use in 2002-2008: Overall results (DOT HS 811 135). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811135.pdf.
• Data for 1994-2000: Bondy, N. & Glassbrenner, D. (2001). National Occupant Protection Use Survey: 2000 controlled intersection study (DOT HS 809 318). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/809318.pdf.

Raw data source

Age specific data for children under age 8: National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats (NSUBS), U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis.
All other data: National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS), U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics and Analysis.
http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/

Appendices

Appendix 1. Percentage of Children and Youth Using Safety Restraints: Select Years, 1994-2016

Background

Definition

Most observational data were collected at intersections with a stop sign or stop light. If a child or youth was observed in a child restraint or using a seat belt, he or she was counted as using a seat belt or restraint. Restraints include a rear-facing safety seat, front-facing safety seat, high-backed booster seat, seat-belt or backless booster seat. Observations were made by trained observers at various roadways. For age-specific data on children under age 8, data were collected by interview and observation at gas stations, fast food restaurants, day care centers, and recreation centers.

Citation

Child Trends. (2018). Seat Belt Use. Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/seat-belt-use.

Endnotes

  1. Before 2007, NHTSA published the child restraint use rates for these age ranges based on data from the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS). For years 2007 and onward, however, NHTSA’s published estimates of child restraint use for these age ranges are from the National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats (NSUBS). Since information about age is obtained by interviews in NSUBS and through visual assessment in NOPUS, the NSUBS is more accurate.
  2. Sauber-Schatz, E. K., West, B. A., & Bergen, G. (2014). Vital signs: Restraint use and motor vehicle occupant death rates among children aged 0-12 years—United States, 2002-2011. MMWR, 63(5), 113-118.
  3. Glassbrenner, D. (2004). Safety belt use in 2003—Demographic characteristics (DOT HS 809 729). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Retrieved from https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/809729.