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The Effects of Mandatory Seatbelt Laws on Seatbelt Use, Motor Vehicle Fatalities, and Crash-Related Injuries among Youths

  • Christopher S. Carpenter
  • Mark Stehr

We provide the first comprehensive assessment of the effects of mandatory seatbelt laws on self-reported seatbelt use, highway fatalities, and crash-related injuries among high school age youths using data from the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) national, state, and local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS) and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from 1991 to 2005, a period spanning over 20 changes in state seatbelt laws. Our quasi-experimental approaches isolate the independent effects of seatbelt laws net of demographic characteristics, area and year fixed effects, and smooth area-specific trends. Across all data sources, we find consistent evidence that state mandatory seatbelt laws -- particularly those permitting primary enforcement -- significantly increased seatbelt use among high school age youths by 45-80 percent, primarily at the extensive margin. Unlike previous research for adults, however, we find evidence against the selective recruitment hypothesis: seatbelt laws had consistently larger effects on those most likely to be involved in traffic accidents (drinkers, alcohol-involved drivers). We also find that mandatory seatbelt laws significantly reduced traffic fatalities and serious injuries resulting from fatal crashes by 8 and 9 percent, respectively. Our results suggest that if all states had primary enforcement seatbelt laws then regular youth seatbelt use would be nearly universal and youth fatalities would fall by about 120 per year.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w13408.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13408.

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Date of creation: Sep 2007
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Publication status: published as 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.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13408
Note: HE
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  1. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," NBER Working Papers 8841, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. 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.
  3. Evans, William N & Graham, John D, 1991. " Risk Reduction or Risk Compensation? The Case of Mandatory Safety-Belt Use Laws," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 4(1), pages 61-73, January.
  4. Anindya Sen, 2001. "Do stricter penalties deter drinking and driving? An empirical investigation of Canadian impaired driving laws," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 34(1), pages 149-164, February.
  5. Dee, Thomas S. & Grabowski, David C. & Morrisey, Michael A., 2005. "Graduated driver licensing and teen traffic fatalities," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 571-589, May.
  6. Daniel Eisenberg, 2003. "Evaluating the effectiveness of policies related to drunk driving," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 22(2), pages 249-274.
  7. Jonathan Gruber & Jonathan Zinman, 2001. "Youth Smoking in the United States: Evidence and Implications," NBER Chapters, in: Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis, pages 69-120 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Christopher Carpenter & Philip J. Cook, 2007. "Cigarette Taxes and Youth Smoking: New Evidence from National, State, & Local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys," NBER Working Papers 13046, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Thomas S. Dee & William N. Evans, 2001. "Teens and Traffic Safety," NBER Chapters, in: Risky Behavior among Youths: An Economic Analysis, pages 121-166 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. William N. Evans & Thomas S. Dee, 2001. "Behavior Policies and Teen Traffic Safety," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 91-96, May.
  11. Alma Cohen & Liran Einav, 2003. "The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Laws on Driving Behavior and Traffic Fatalities," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 828-843, November.
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