Ticketing Changes Could Raise Seat Belt Use Among Blacks

When laws change, racial differences in buckling up disappear, study finds

THURSDAY, June 22, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Despite increases in car seat belt use over the past few decades, black Americans are still less likely to buckle up than whites.

Now, a new study suggests that a simple change in ticketing laws could change that.

In states with laws that mandate that a driver can only be ticketed for not wearing seat belts if they've been stopped for another violation, black motorists are far less likely to buckle up, U.S. researchers found.

However, in states with "primary" seat belt laws -- meaning that a motorist can be pulled over and cited solely for not wearing a seat belt -- compliance rates for the law are equal between black and white motorists.

Researchers from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., and State Farm Alliance studied data from a national archive of fatal motor vehicle crashes stored by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Data was collected and analyzed relating to use of seat belts in 11,574 black and 73,639 white drivers and passengers who died in motor vehicle crashes between 1999 and 2003. These crashes spanned 33 states -- seven with primary seat belt laws and 22 with secondary laws. The remaining four states revised their laws from secondary to primary during the time of the study.

Overall rates of seat belt compliance improved in states with primary laws compared to those with secondary laws -- an 18 percent and 15 percent increase among black and white motorists, respectively, the study found. In secondary-law states, black drivers were 75 percent less likely to wear seat belts in urban areas than white drivers. In those states, black motorists between the ages of 16 and 29 and over the age of 50 were also most likely to not wear seat belts.

Results from the study appear in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Although the study could not pinpoint the cause of the improvement, the researchers noted that discrepancies between races in seat belt compliance could possibly be related to racial profiling concerns, or the ability of officers in certain areas to stop and ticket minority drivers not wearing seat belts at random, known as "differential enforcement."

"The issue of differential enforcement has received little attention in the peer-reviewed literature and should be addressed using methodologically robust epidemiologic studies," the researchers said in a prepared statement. "In the interim, however, the passage of primary seat belt laws, in conjunction with provisions or companion legislation to monitor and prevent racial profiling, appears to be justified given the possibility that we can achieve racial parity in motor vehicle crash mortality rates." study authors wrote in a prepared statement.

More information

The National Safety Council has more information on driver safety.

SOURCES: Elsevier Health Sciences, news release, June 20, 2006
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