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Promoting seat belt use among black motorists

Seat belts reduce injuries and deaths in motor vehicle crashes, but previous studies have found that blacks buckle up significantly less often than whites. An article in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers from Meharry Medical College may shed some new light on the racial disparity in seatbelt use, and how it could be eliminated.

Nathaniel C. Briggs, M.D. and his Meharry - State Farm Alliance research team found that racial differences in seatbelt use vary according to the type of seatbelt law enforced by individual states. In states with secondary seatbelt laws, where motorists can be cited for a seatbelt law violation only if stopped for another offense, blacks are significantly less likely to wear seatbelts than whites. In states with primary laws, where motorists can be stopped solely for not wearing a seat belt, the disparity disappears.

Although 49 states (all except New Hampshire) and the District of Columbia have seat belt laws, only 25 have primary laws. Therefore, Briggs et al. believe that, if the 24 states with secondary seatbelt laws upgraded to a primary law, the disparity in seat belt use between blacks and whites would be eliminated virtually throughout the country. In turn, this could lead to a reduction in the disproportionate number of motor vehicle crash-related injuries and deaths reported among blacks.

While two previous studies found that disparities in seatbelt use between black and white motorists were reduced under primary laws, the studies were limited in scope and the research was inconclusive.

Using data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a U.S. population-based archive of information on motor vehicle crash fatalities maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), investigators looked at seatbelt use among 11,574 black and 73,639 white occupants of passenger cars or light trucks who were aged 16 years and older and fatal
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20-Jun-2006


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