The Demographics of Seatbelt Use

The use of seat belts can greatly diminish risk of injury in the case of a vehicular accident. Nearly all states have some sort of law regarding seat belts; the exception is New Hampshire. Some states have laws that allow police to pull people over if they’re not wearing their seat belts, and others give the police the authority to issue tickets for seat belt violations if drivers have been pulled over for something else. Note that the first set of laws just described are called primary enforcement laws, while the others are categorized as secondary enforcement laws. Despite these regulations as well as widespread efforts to educate people about the benefits of seat belts, seat belt usage is not 100%.

The Statistics

A study in 2023 found that 91.9% of adult front-seat passenger used their seat belts. This was a record high. In comparison, 85.1% and 88.5% of adult front-seat passengers in 2010 and 2015, respectively, reported using their seat belts. These numbers can be considered a success when taking into account how many people wore their seat belts in the late 1970s and 1980s. Studies have shown that only between 11% and 14% of people regularly used seat belts during that time. Only in the 1980s did states begin to enact seat belt laws.


The use of seat belts is slightly higher when looking at drivers versus right-front passengers, just as it is when looking at states with primary versus secondary enforcement laws and urban versus rural areas. Front-passenger seat belt usage is highest in the West (96.5%). The Northeast (93%) and Midwest (92.9) regions follow, and usage in the South (88.4%) is the lowest.


Researchers have looked at other demographics as well. One study analyzed seat belt usage by race. Across the board, usage was fairly high, with all races reporting consistent seat belt usage of at least 92% when riding in the front row.  Asians had the highest usage, coming in at 96% for drivers and 98% for front passengers. However, just 58% of Asians reported that they always use seat belts in the back seat. Black (60%), Hispanic (70%), Multiracial (66%), and White (64%) respondents had slightly higher rates of back-seat seat belt usage.

Continuing to educate and encourage minority groups to use seatbelts is of vital importance. Studies show that Black and Hispanic Americans are more likely to die in a car accident. In 2020, Hispanic victims accounted for 17% of all traffic fatalities on US roads.


A few years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published data that analyzed the percentage of seat belt use by age. Fortunately, seat belt usage, or the adoption of some sort of child restraint system, was very high for children up to seven years old. In 2021, the percentage was 93.4%, with the percentage being the highest in the West (97.5%). Unsurprisingly, drivers who reporting using their own seat belts were much more likely to place their children in proper restraints. According to the study, 93.3% of children between the ages of eight and 15 used seat belts, 88.2% of people from 16 to 24 used seat belts, 90.4% of people from 25 to 69 used seat belts, and 92.2% of those who were 70 or older used seat belts. Over the course of around ten years, seat belt usage has increased for every age group, with older teens and younger adults trailing behind each year.