Stronger seat belt laws save lives

Bethany Tripp

BOSTON (June 22, 2015) — A new study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and led by Lois Lee, MD, MPH, and injury researcher and attending physician in the Emergency Department at Boston Children’s Hospital, shows states with stronger seat belt laws had fewer car crash fatalities between 2001 and 2010 than states with less strict laws.

Motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death among persons 5 to 34 years old in the United States. “Wearing a seat belt is the one thing that has been shown to be most efficacious in decreasing death and injuries in motor vehicle crashes,” says Lee.

Thirty-three states have primary seat belt laws, which allow officers to issue a ticket solely for not wearing seat belts. Sixteen states, including Massachusetts, have secondary seat belt laws that allow officers to issue a ticket only if the car is pulled over for another violation. One state has no law.

“We wanted to look at the effect of having a primary seat belt enforcement law compared to a secondary law on crash deaths,” says lee. Lee is working with Boston Children’s Hospital’s Office of Government Relations and the Belts Ensuring a Safer Tomorrow (BEST) coalition to lobby for a primary enforcement law in Massachusetts.

In this study, Lee compared fatality rates among persons 10 or older between 2001 and 2010 due to motor vehicle crashes in states with primary seat belt laws with those in states with secondary laws.

The fatality rate was 17 percent lower in states with primary laws. 

The issue is critical for teen drivers, says Lee. Her study showed teens have the lowest rates of seat belt use and highest rate of fatalities.

“Parents need to model seat belt use for teens, tell them it’s the safest way to be in a car and remind them that it’s the law,” concludes Lee.

About Boston Children’s Hospital

Boston Children’s Hospital is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center, where its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. More than 1,100 scientists, including seven members of the National Academy of Sciences, 11 members of the Institute of Medicine and 10 members of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute comprise Boston Children’s research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Boston Children’s today is a 397-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care. Boston Children’s is also the pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. For more, visit our Answers blog and follow us on our social media channels: @BostonChildrens, @BCH_Innovation, Facebook and YouTube.