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Harvard Study Indicates Mandatory Seatbelt Laws Reduce Traffic Fatalities

September 03, 2013

Although Georgia has a mandatory seatbelt law, many lives are lost annually both within Georgia and across the U.S. because vehicle occupants elect not to buckle up their seatbelt.  Our experienced Georgia auto collision attorneys at Montlick and Associates are firm advocates of using safety restraints, because we see the avoidable consequences of choosing not to use a seatbelt.  While the merits of legislation that requires motorists to engage in behavior for their own safety is open to debate by policymakers, an important consideration in this discussion is whether mandatory seatbelt laws actually increase the percentage of vehicle occupants who buckle up and prevent crash-related fatalities.  An interesting study conducted by researchers at Harvard University Department of Economics provides some insight into the impact of seatbelt laws on traffic fatalities.

According to the report, there are some who suggest that seatbelt use actually increases unsafe driver behavior because motorists experience a false sense of security and drive less safely.  This theory referred to as the “compensating behavior theory” (also known as the “Peltzman effect”) postulates that accident fatalities decline among those using seatbelts, but the number of fatalities among others increases because those wearing seatbelts exercise less caution behind the wheel.  This view of behavior regarding seatbelt use presumes that the fatality rate among bicyclists and pedestrians, for example, increases as a greater number of drivers use their safety restraint because they exercise less care when driving.

The Harvard study found that increased seatbelt usage did result in a reduction in traffic-related fatalities among drivers of vehicles equipped with seatbelts, but there was no evidence to support the notion that drivers were induced to drive more carelessly or inattentively because they were restrained.  According to the study, each ten percent increase in seatbelt usage rate resulted in a 1.35 percent reduction in car accident-related fatalities.  The researchers found no change in accident-fatalities among bicyclists and pedestrians who do not have access to seatbelts.  The researchers conclude that increased seatbelt use does reduce the number of people who are killed in car crashes without increasing risk-taking motivated by a false sense of security.

The next stage of the analysis in understanding the impact of mandatory seatbelt laws involves determining whether the laws actually increase seatbelt usage among vehicle occupants.  The authors of the study found that the most significant factor in determining whether seatbelt laws influence behavior involved a distinction between primary and secondary seatbelt law.  Primary enforcement laws permit law enforcement to pull over drivers solely for not wearing a seatbelt whereas secondary laws require that the officer have reasonable suspicion of another traffic violation to justify a vehicle stop.  Because the likelihood of receiving a citation is higher in primary violation states, driving behavior was more significantly impacted by seatbelt laws in these states.  While the researchers found that primary seatbelt laws increased usage by 22 percent, secondary seatbelt laws were only half as effective.

This study confirms reports by federal traffic safety experts that mandatory seatbelt laws do save lives.  Regardless of where one stands on the use of mandatory laws to protect drivers from their own hazardous conduct, we encourage all vehicle occupants to choose to fasten their seatbelt and to encourage others in your vehicle to do so as well.  If you or someone close to you is involved in an auto accident, our Georgia car wreck attorneys at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to those throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast. 

No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333).  You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat. Montlick & Associates, Attorneys at Law

Category: Auto Accidents

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All information provided by our blogs is general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Consult a Montlick attorney for details about your unique situation.

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