An Observational Survey of Safety Belt and Child Safety Seat Use in Virginia: The 1989 Update

Report No: 91-R28

Published in 1991

About the report:

The report has been prepared in response to a request from the Transportation Safety Administration of the Department of Motor Vehicles for data concerning the use of safety belts and child safety seats by the occupants of vehicles bearing Virginia license plates. In an effort to track changes in safety belt use as a result of various statutory enactments, enforcement campaigns, and public information efforts, a series of surveys were conducted. These surveys occurred over two time periods: 1974 through 1977, and 1983 through 1989. During the period ending in 1986, only the four major metropolitan areas of the state were used for data collection. From 1987 through 1989, survey sites were added in nine smaller communities. These areas are referred to as "towns," although several are legally classified as cities. Prior to enactment of the child safety seat law in the 1982 session of the Virginia General Assembly and the occupant restraint law in the 1987 session, belt use by the affected groups (children under 4 years of age and all front seat occupants) showed small yearly increases. After the effective date of each of the statutes, there was a markedly large increase in use by both target groups. The child seat use rate has remained relatively stable over the entire 7-year postlaw period, at approximately two-thirds of those surveyed. The front seat rate peaked at nearly 63% in the first 6 months after the effective date of law and subsequently declined to about 55% (p < .01). A number of other findings are presented in the report. Among these are the following: (1) belt use was highest in the northern area of the state; (2) there was little difference in use rates throughout the day; (3) a large proportion of child seats were misused in an obvious way; and (4) older adults had the highest rates of use with the exception of infants. It was concluded that the major reason for the increase in belt use was the passage of the statutes requiring use by the two targeted groups of occupants. Several recommendations are made to increase statewide safety belt use. These include directing public information and enforcement efforts toward residents of smaller communities and rural areas, occupants of the rear seating positions, young males, and areas of the state where large declines in use have occurred. It is also recommended that the mandatory use law be modified to apply also to rear seat occupants.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


  • Charles B. Stoke

Last updated: December 26, 2023

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