The University Record, January 14, 1997

Safety belt use still on the rise in Michigan, researchers find

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services


Although safety belt use is on the rise in Michigan, permitting police to stop motorists simply for failing to wear a safety belt would help increase belt use in the state, according to a U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) study.

"We'd get higher belt use and save more lives if the law permitted primary enforcement," says UMTRI researcher David W. Eby. "However, current efforts to increase belt use statewide are showing success and should be continued."

In their annual study of about 8,900 drivers and front-seat passengers in Michigan's 28 most populous counties, Eby and colleague Carl Christoff found that more than two-thirds of motorists in passenger cars (70.8 percent, up from 66.8 percent a year ago), sport-utility vehicles (71.6 percent, up from 70.7 percent) and vans/minivans (67.6 percent, down from 69.1 percent) wear safety belts.

However, the safety belt use rate for pickup truck occupants---predominantly male---is, once again, less than 50 percent (47.7 percent, down from 49.3 percent).

Likewise, more women than men buckle up in all four vehicle types, with 76.7 percent of females wearing safety belts in passenger cars, compared with 63.6 percent of males, Eby says.

The most notable difference, he adds, is in the 16- to 29-year-old age group, where the estimated belt use rate is 21.1 percentage points higher for females (72.6 percent) than for males (51.5 percent).

"The disparity between genders diminishes as age increases, with an 8.9 percentage-point difference found for the 60-and-over group," Eby says. "These results point out the need for belt-use promotion efforts to be directed at getting young men to wear their safety belts."

In addition to targeting young men, he says that efforts should also be directed toward preventing the decline of safety belt use that occurs between the ages of 4 and 15.

"You would expect that children in this age group would be belted at nearly the same rate as the youngest age group (children 3 and under) because parents and other adults still have primary responsibility for ensuring that those in this age group are belted, even after the child is out of the safety seat," Eby says.

Many younger children in this age group, he adds, may not wear safety belts because they are playing a game or moving around in the vehicle and/or their parents or other adults may think they are too small for safety belts to provide proper protection.

The study also found that use of safety belts is greatest during the morning rush hours with roughly three-fourths of drivers and front-seat occupants in passenger cars restrained. Also, Sunday drivers and passengers are more likely to buckle up, compared with those on other days of the week.

In all, Eby says that until a primary enforcement safety belt law is passed in Michigan, stricter enforcement of the state's current law, coupled with major public information and education programs, can be effective in increasing safety belt use.

"We need to remember that as belt use increases over 70 percent, those people who do not buckle up will be the hardest to get to wear safety belts and will likely require continuing attention," he says. "We must not give up on these hard-to-reach people because research has shown that people who don't wear belts are more likely to get into a crash than people who regularly buckle up, and when they do crash, the crashes are generally more severe."

Data for the study was collected this fall by observers stationed at 168 intersections and freeway exit ramps throughout the state.