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Reducing traffic fatalities in the American States by upgrading seat belt use laws to primary enforcement


  • David J. Houston

    (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

  • Lilliard E. Richardson, Jr.

    (University of Missouri, Columbia)


A key component of crime deterrence is the certainty of detection, but in 2005 seat belt laws in 27 states prohibited law enforcement officers from ticketing an observed violation unless the driver is stopped for another offense, which is referred to as secondary enforcement. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have upgraded from secondary to primary enforcement, which authorizes police to stop a motor vehicle if a driver or occupant covered by the law is observed not using a seat belt. To test the impact of seat belt enforcement provisions, cross-sectional time series regressions are estimated for annual driver and occupant fatality rates in the American states from 1990 to 2002. Using several control variables for other traffic policies and state demographics, the results indicate primary enforcement is more effective in saving lives than secondary enforcement. Furthermore, upgrading to a primary law enhances the effectiveness of an existing state mandatory use law. © 2006 by the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management

Suggested Citation

  • David J. Houston & Lilliard E. Richardson, Jr., 2006. "Reducing traffic fatalities in the American States by upgrading seat belt use laws to primary enforcement," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(3), pages 645-659.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:jpamgt:v:25:y:2006:i:3:p:645-659 DOI: 10.1002/pam.20195

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Carpenter, Christopher S. & Stehr, Mark, 2008. "The effects of mandatory seatbelt laws on seatbelt use, motor vehicle fatalities, and crash-related injuries among youths," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(3), pages 642-662, May.
    2. CUYVERS, Ludo & PLASMANS, Joseph & SOENG, Reth & VAN DEN BULCKE, Daniël, 2008. "Determinants of foreign direct investment in Cambodia: Country-specific factor differentials," Working Papers 2008003, University of Antwerp, Faculty of Applied Economics.

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