A study published recently in the research journal Accident Analysis and Prevention analyzes the habits of drivers who only occasionally use seatbelts. The report, which used data from monitoring devices installed in 100 vehicles, shows that reluctant seatbelt users are more likely to buckle up for trips on high speed roads.
The majority of accidents – and the majority of driving – occurs on low-speed roads close to drivers’ homes, where drivers and passengers use seatbelts at lower rates. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says that if drivers and front-seat passengers always used seatbelts, traffic fatalities would fall by 45 percent.
“We wanted to find out what makes occasional seatbelt users buckle up more than half the time,” said Jon Hankey, a director of the study at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. “They know it is a good idea, so why don’t they do it all of the time?”
The study was the first of its kind. Over the course of one year, instruments in 100 cars gathered data on more than 150,000 trips by 108 primary drivers and 299 secondary drivers. Participants answered questionnaires designed to measure certain personality traits such as aggression and risk-taking.
“The first objective was to determine if there were variables, such as trip distance, speed, and time of day, that uniquely characterized consistent, occasional, and infrequent seatbelt users,” said Hankey.
“The second objective was to conduct a more detailed analysis of the group defined as occasional seatbelt users to identify factors associated with these drivers’ decisions to wear their belts on some trips but not others,” he added.
Data showed primary drivers wore their seatbelts 79.1 of the time and second drivers buckled up 81.2 percent of the time. Researchers found that during trips around town averaging 30 mph, occasional seatbelt users opted for the seatbelt 72.7 percent of the time, but trips averaging 50 mph saw seatbelt usage at 89.0 percent.
“Occasional users may have an unrealistic view of a certain trip’s risk, and an education program targeting this unrealistic view may have a significant impact on seatbelt compliance,” said NHTSA fellow Sharon P. Berlin.
The study also showed that individuals with more formal education were more likely to be consistent seatbelt users, and those with aggressive driving habits were more likely to be occasional seatbelt users.
The NHTSA is planning another, much larger, study, called the Strategic Highway Research Program. The study will involve driving data on 2,000 cars.