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41 Sanctions for safety belt violations have typically been min- imal in comparison with penalties for other violations. In gen- eral, âStopâ sign violations carry greater fine levels than nonuse of safety belts (Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, 2001). There is reasonably strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that, if penalties were more in line with those of other traffic law violations (and publicized), usage would be positively af- fected. However, there has not been a great deal of research conducted with regard to this issue. The most commonly sug- gested options for increasing sanctions have been increasing fines to more reasonable levels (e.g., $50 to $100) and impos- ing penalty points on a driverâs license for safety belt viola- tions. There also have been suggestions that reductions in damage awards for unbelted victims could impact SBU. The Importance of Penalties in Conjunction with Legislation The review of the impact of safety belt legislation provides consistent evidence that the presence or absence of a penalty contributes to the efficacy of an SBU law, particularly a primary enforcement law. Data from the 1987 Campbell study of early safety belt laws showed that when a primary law was imple- mented and a penalty was in effect, there was an average in- crease in usage of about 38 percentage points. When no penalty was in effect, such as during a warning-only period, the average increase was only 23 points, about the same as in secondary law states, with or without sanctions. Eight years later, when Winnicki (1995) reported on his analysis of usage among fatally injured occupants, he found that the largest increases in usage were in primary-law states where sanctions were in effect within 4 months after implementation of the law (median increase of 21 points). In several states with delayed fines, he found a significant impact when the law went into effect and when the fine went into effect (i.e., in Florida, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Washington). Again, these findings pertain to persons killed in fatal crashes, which is by definition a higher than average risk group. Recently, the State of Washington enacted a primary law upgrade, implemented HVE efforts in conjunction with that upgrade, and increased the penalty for all traffic law viola- tions. The new penalty for a safety belt violation increased from $86 to $101. This increase was publicized extensively, including on road signs. In their evaluation of the impact of Washingtonâs primary law upgrade, Salzberg and Moffat (2004) suggested that the publicized increase in fines was an important con- tributor to the 12-point impact on observed usage, which in- creased from 83% to 95%. Another aspect of penalties that should be considered is the fact that impaired driving studies have shown that the com- bination of swift, certain, and reasonably severe penalties have been necessary and effective deterrents to impaired driving (Nichols and Ross, 1989). Of course, these impaired driving penalties have been many times higher than those associated with violations of SBU laws. Fine Levels and Penalty Points Winnicki also reported that, during the early period of law enactments when usage rates were very low, the magnitude of the fine was positively related to usage. He estimated that each $10 increase in fine level would be associated with a 7.4-point increase in usage among persons involved in potentially fatal crashes. Current Fine Levels As of 2005, 38 states had fine levels of $25 or less (median value = $25), while 11 states and the District of Columbia had a fine level of $30 or greater (median fine level = $50). Among these states, undifferentiated by type of law, jurisdictions with a fine of $30 or greater had an average usage rate of 84.3%. States with lower fines had an average rate of 80.7% (3.6 points lower). Consistent with the data from Campbell and Winnicki, this dif- ference was greatest in primary law states. Primary law states with a fine of $30 or greater had an average usage rate of 88.8%, C H A P T E R 4 Sanctions
compared with an average of 82.4% in primary states with a lower fine (+6.4 points).97 Opinions of Nonusers Existing low fine levels may be related to attitudes regard- ing sanctions for nonuse that date back to the 1980s, when SBU laws were first enacted. At that time, there was a hesitancy to attach anything but a minimal fine to a new law. However, as Figure 21 shows, about two-thirds of nonusers and part- time users surveyed by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS) indicated that they would (probably or defi- nitely) be more likely to buckle up if fines were increased, leaving only one-third who indicated that they would not likely change their behavior if fines increased (ACTS, 2001). Seventy-six percent of these respondents indicated that they would buckle up if nonuse could result in penalty points assessed against their driverâs license. When asked about the most effective way to get them to buckle up, 30% responded that penalty points would be most effective, compared with about 15% who said that increased fines would be most effective. Opinions of Hard-Core Nonusers In North Carolina, a telephone survey of hard-core nonusers found 62% who said that they would not buckle up regard- less of the magnitude of the fine or that they did not know how high a fine would convince them to buckle up (Reinfurt, Williams, Wells, and Rodgman, 1996). This survey took place immediately after the benchmark CIOT program that in- cluded about 6,000 checkpoints and the issuance of nearly 60,000 citations across the state. These nonusers were con- sidered to be among the least likely to buckle up and, as other studies have found, were typically young males, driving older vehicles or pickup trucks, and with poor driving records. In- terestingly, as in the ACTS survey, 62% of these hard-core nonusers said that they would buckle up if a violation resulted in points assessed against their license. Canadian Experience with Demerit Points The Canadian experience is often mentioned with regard to the potential for penalty or demerit points to increase usage. Canada began to use high-visibility STEP efforts in the early 1980s in an effort to increase usage in the individual provinces and nationwide. That approach was associated with substan- tial increases in usage (see discussion of Canadian enforce- ment history in the âEnforcement Sectionâ of this report). In addition, penalty points were implemented in most provinces and territories as part of the nationwide effort to increase usage. A national use rate of 90% was achieved in 1994 and penalty points (in 9 of 12 jurisdictions) may have played a role in that accomplishment. Boase et al. (2004) pointed out that the prin- ciple involved in the various demerit systems implemented in Canada was that the points accumulated and thus repeat vi- olations resulted in additional sanctions, such as the loss of a license and increased cost of insurance. With regard to the Canadian experience, there has been reasonably frequent speculation that penalty or demerit points played a role in that nationâs success in reaching a 90% usage rate, but there is no hard documentation of such impact. Reduced Damage Awards Another form of penalty that has been suggested involves reduced damage awards to victims of crashes if they were un- buckled at the time of the crash. Here again, logic suggests that such a penalty might have an impact, but there is no re- search to support that hypothesis. Still, in the realm of self- reported data, the ACTS survey found that, among nonusers and part-time users who were asked if reduced damages would increase their likelihood of buckling up, about 65% said that it definitely or likely would cause them to buckle up. This pro- 42 Definitely More Likely Probably More Likely Would Make No Difference 42% 25% Figure 21. Self-reported likelihood of buckling up if the fine was increased (Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, 2001). 97These rates and fine levels were derived from Glassbrenner (2005).
portion was nearly identical to the proportion that said in- creased fines would affect their behavior. An older study of operators of state-owned vehicles in three Florida government agencies found that a disincentive such as this, combined with dashboard stickers and signature sheets warning of a 25% reduction in benefits for not buckling up, resulted in substantial 38- to 48-point increases in observed usage. However, these increases were from very low usage levels of only about 10% (Rogers, Rogers, and Bailey, et al., 1988). Further, these observations were of employees driving official vehicles. Usage among employees while driving their own vehi- cles increased by only 6 to 8 points from similarly low baselines. Choosing Between Alternative Sanctions In the ACTS survey of nonusers and part-time users, respon- dents were asked to choose which measure would be the most effective way to get them to buckle up: a) increased enforce- ment; b) primary law upgrade; c) increased fines; d) penalty points; and e) reduced damage awards. Figure 22 shows that the most frequently selected option was penalty points (30%), followed by increased fines (15%), increased enforcement or primary laws (14% each), and reduced awards (12%). Hedlund (2006) pointed out that the issue of penalties must be considered in the context of their potential impact on en- forcement. Penalties that are too low are likely to be ineffective, but penalties that are too high may make some police reluctant to issue citations. Among the U.S. public, there is reasonably strong support for increased fines of up to about $50, but less support for penalty points. The 2000 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey (MVOSS) found that, while 62% of the public favored fine increases and 21% opposed them, only 31% fa- vored penalty points and 49% opposed them (Block, 2001). This lower level of support for penalty points may affect leg- islatorsâ willingness to enact such sanctions into law. On a more positive note, however, support for such sanctions has been increasing over time and experience with primary laws suggests that public support will increase substantially if such sanctions are enacted. An additional piece of information is provided by the 2000 MVOSS (Block, 2001). In an effort to make the issue of penal- ties somewhat less personal, respondents were asked if some- one they knew who didnât buckle up all of the time would wear his or her safety belt if assessed various fine amounts. Figure 23 shows that, as the proposed fine level increased, so did the ex- pectation that it would change the behavior of the person in question. With a fine of $50, 57% of respondents indicated 43 12 30 17 1414 0 10 20 30 40 Enforcement Primary Law Increased Fines Penalty Points Reduced Awards Pe rc en t Figure 22. Responses to the question: What would be the most effective way to get you to buckle up more frequently? (Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, 2001). 57 474746 42 36 20 30 40 50 60 $10 $15 $20 $25 $30 $50 Pe rc en t Figure 23. Percent of respondents stating that it is likely that a nonuser that they know would buckle up if assessed the state fine (by fine level) (Block, 2001).
that a nonuser known to them would likely buckle up. This is compared with 47% for a proposed fine of $25 (the median fine for nonuse in the United States) and 10% for a proposed fine of $10. Summary of Sanctions In summary of penalties and their potential impact, there is relatively little research regarding their past, present, or po- tential impact, particularly compared with evidence regard- ing the impact of laws, upgrades, and enforcement. However, there is consistent circumstantial evidence to suggest that publicized increases in fines and assessment of penalty points would impact SBU. Further, relatively recent survey data sug- gest that an increase in fines (up to about $50) would be sup- ported by a majority of the public and that public acceptance of increasing penalties for seat belt nonuse is increasing, rather than decreasing. 44