Reluctance to use seat belt kills 5,000 teens every year in US


Washington : Motor vehicle crashes claim nearly 5,000 teenagers every year in the US, because of their refusal to wear seat belts either as drivers or passengers.

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The study comprised over 12,000 African-American, white, and Hispanic public and private high school students aged 16 or older who participated in the 2001 and 2003 National Youth Risk Behaviour Surveys.

In the first ever comparison of differences between driver and passenger seat belt use for a nationally representative sample, Meharry Medical College researchers found that 59 percent of teens always buckled up in the driver seat but only 42 percent always wore seat belts as passengers.

While teens are less likely than other motorists to wear seat belts as drivers, a current study has discovered that it is even a bigger problem among teen passengers. Even more sobering, only 38 percent reported always buckling up as both drivers and passengers.

“Because seat belts can reduce the risk of injury and death in crashes by more than 50 percent, there is a critical need for interventions to increase seat belt use by teens as both drivers and passengers,” said Nathaniel Briggs of Meharry’s, who led the study.

Briggs and his colleagues recommended a combination of approaches like upgrading state seat belt laws to uniformly require that teen motor vehicle occupants in the rear seat be secured in seat belts.

Currently, the majority of state laws are limited to front seat coverage for some or all teens in the 16-19 age group.

Briggs called for upgrading state seat belt laws from “secondary” (law enforcement officers can ticket motorists for seat belt law violations only after stopping them for another offence) to “primary” (law enforcement officers can stop and ticket motorists solely for seat belt law violations).

The surveys are conducted every two years by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to track the leading causes of death and disability among US teens.

These findings are scheduled for publication in the September issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.