An Observational Survey of Safety Belt and Child Safety Seat Use in Virginia: Final Report: The 1990 Update

Report No: 92-R22

Published in 1992

About the report:

This report was prepared in response to a request from the Transportation Safety Administration of the Virginia 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 over two time periods: (1) 1974 through 1977, and (2) 1983 through 1990. Until 1987, data were collected in only the four major metropolitan areas of the state. In 1987, survey sites were added in nine smaller communities. These communities are referred to as "towns," although several are legally classified as cities. Prior to enactment of the child safety seat law in 1982 and the safety belt mandatory use law in 1987, safety seat and belt use by the affected groups (children under 4 years of age and all front seat occupants, respectively) 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 safety seat use rate remained relatively stable over the entire 8-year post law period, at approximately 66% of those surveyed. The front seat occupant rate peaked at nearly 62% in the first 6 months after the effective date of the law, declined to about 55% (p < .01) in 1989, and was nearly 57% in 1990. 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 safety seats were misused in an obvious way; and (4) with the exception of infants, older adults had the highest rates of use. It was concluded that the major reason for the increase in safety seat and belt use was the passage of the statutes. Several actions are recommended to increase statewide safety belt use. These include (1) directing public information and enforcement efforts toward residents of smaller communities and rural areas, occupants of the rear seat, young males, and areas of the state where use rates are below 50%, and (2) amending the safety belt mandatory use law to include 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 25, 2023

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