Seat Belt Use in 2023

A recent study published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 91.9 percent of Americans on the road wore their seat belts throughout 2023. That number is up slightly from 91.6 percent in 2022 and up dramatically from 2010’s seat belt use rate of 85.1 percent.

13-Year Trend Shows Slowly Increasing Seat Belt Use

Seat Belt Use Rate, 2010 - 2023
YearSeat Belt Use Rate

Since 2010, the percentage of Americans using their seat belts has steadily climbed to its present level. And though some years saw a slight drop in the percentage of seat belt use, those drops only lasted one to two years before rebounding the following year. 

For example, in 2014, the seat belt use rate dropped to 83.6 percent. The next year, the rate rebounded and settled at 86.1 percent. Later, between 2016 and 2018, the seat belt use rate declined once again from 90.1 percent to 89.7 percent to 89.6 percent. But just a year later, the rate returned to 90.7 percent.

Unbelted Occupant Fatality Rate Remains Flat

Unbelted Occupant Fatality Rate
YearUnbelted Occupant Fatality Rate

Despite the increasing number of Americans using their seat belts over the 13-year span of the NHTSA’s study, the rate at which unrestrained individuals are killed in traffic accidents remains relatively flat. 

In 2013, the rate was 39.4 percent, and by 2017, it had dropped to a solid 39.0 percent. However, by 2021, the latest year for which data is available regarding these fatalities, it had climbed back to 42.3 percent.  

Interestingly, these rates do not appear to correspond in any meaningful way to the rate of individuals using seat belts. 

In 2021, for instance, despite a seat belt use rate of 90.4 percent, the fatality rate for unbelted occupants was fairly high at 42.3 percent. Yet in 2018, the year with the second-lowest recorded fatality rate of 38.6 percent, the seat belt use rate was also low at 89.6 percent.

Other Insights From NHTSA’s Report

The NHTSA study also revealed several other surprising facts about seat belt use in America. These insights include the following:

More Drivers Wear Their Seat Belt Than Passengers 

Overall, the rate of seat belt use by drivers is greater than that for right-front-seat passengers. In 2023, approximately 92.1 percent of drivers on the road were wearing their seat belts, as opposed to 90.9 percent of passengers. A similar distinction was also noted in 2022, wherein 90.0 percent of passengers but 91.9 percent of drivers wore their seat belts.

Effect of Seat Belt Laws on Seat Belt Use

The states in which a police officer can stop and ticket a vehicle’s occupant for not wearing their seat belt saw a higher rate of seat belt use than those states without such laws. Among the former group, 92.0 percent of vehicle occupants were using their seat belts, whereas only 91.3 percent of people in the latter group did the same. 

Expressways vs. Surface Streets and Seat Belt Use

In both 2022 and 2023, a significantly greater number of people wore their seat belts while on expressways than on surface streets. Occupants wore their seat belts while on the expressway 94.4 percent of the time in 2022 and 94.3 percent of the time in 2023. On other roads, however, that percentage is noticeably lower: 89.4 percent in 2022 and 90.2 percent in 2023.

Traffic Volume, Speed, and Seat Belt Usage

Similarly, individuals were more likely to wear their seat belts in heavy traffic or traffic that was moving quickly than otherwise. 

For example, in 2023, 93.6 percent of occupants wore their seat belts while traveling in fast-moving traffic, and 93.7 percent used their seat belts amidst heavy traffic. Conversely, only 84.6 percent of occupants used their seat belts when there were not many other vehicles sharing the road with them. 

Western U.S. Most Likely to Wear Their Seat Belts

Finally, Americans in the western United States were more likely to be found wearing a seat belt than those in any other region. Over 96 percent of Americans in the western U.S. wear their seat belt, according to NHTSA’s data, while only 88.4 percent of individuals in the South wear their safety belts. The Northeast and the Midwest share similar rates of seat belt use.

Safety Belt Use Must Increase

Although these statistics are generally encouraging, there is still work that remains to be done. Both drivers and passengers should wear a safety belt at all times and not just when traffic is heavy or moving quickly. 

Accidents can happen at any time, and wearing one’s seat belt may mean the difference between living through a crash or dying from it.

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