Estimates suggest that motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading causes of deaths and injuries in the US. Data from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed a loss of 32,675 lives in crashes on roadways during 2014. Enter seat belt usage.

In a recent release of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed seat belt use among adult workers in 21 US states and found workers belonging to occupation groups of construction, extraction, farming, fishing, forestry, installation, maintenance and repair scored the least on seat belt usage scales.

It was observed that the prevalence of not using seat belts was higher across all occupational groups in states with secondary seat belt laws as compared to states with primary seat belt laws. This is a cause for concern as globally, 1.2 million people die in road accidents per annum and about 95% of these causalities occur in moderate and low-income countries of the world.

According to a survey conducted by World Health Organization (WHO), drivers from Canada, Germany, Israel, Malta, Mauritius, the Netherlands and UK used seat belts most diligently. Although in the same countries the figures for passengers using rear seat belts were lower, they were still better than other countries. Seat belt usage is of utmost importance since it accounts for a reduction in road accident casualties by a factor of half for the driver and front seat passenger.

The European Transport Safety Council claimed, “seat belt use has reduced fatalities in European countries by 40% and if the countries increase seat belt use to 99%, 2400 deaths can be prevented annually.”

In the past, surveys have been conducted to understand seat belt use trends across different countries with respect to variables such has income, education, gender, age and demographics. But this recently released report from CDC has surfaced as the first report that delves into understanding patterns in seat belt use from a new perspective; that is by stratifying people by their occupations.

The report stated that of all fatal occupational injuries during 2013 in the US, roadway incidents accounted for 24% of these injuries. These, otherwise preventable injuries, incurred a compensation cost of $2.96 billion. Furthermore, data taken from The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) suggests that the use of seat belts had an association with occupational groups — workers belonging to farming, construction and extraction, forestry, fishing, forestry, and installation, maintenance and repair abstained from using seat belts

Interestingly, the disparity amongst the use of seat belt in states corresponded to the enforced seat belt laws — states which had primary seat belt laws had less people who did not use seat belts. In this case, by law, the driver would be stopped and ticketed solely for not wearing a seat belt. However, in states with secondary seat belt law enforcement; the driver was not primarily ticketed for not wearing a seat belt. Yet if the driver had been stopped for another traffic law offence and was observed by the traffic constable without a seat belt; they would then be ticketed.

Additionally, amongst all the occupational groups, the adjusted prevalence was highest in secondary seat belt states. Following are the figures for the prevalence of seat belt use in percentages; farming, fishing, and forestry (38.1%); construction and extraction (32.1%); installation, maintenance, and repair (27.0%); building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (25.9%); and protective service (25.4%). On the other hand, figures for states with primary seat belt laws included;  construction and extraction (14.1%); legal (14.0%); installation, maintenance, and repair (12.8%); protective service (12.7%); and farming, fishing, and forestry (12.7%) occupational groups who did not wear seat belts.

During a car crash, front seat passengers, when hit by an object or vehicle by force or due to overspeeding of the vehicle, are at risk of hitting the dashboard, windshield or the steering wheel. If a person is restrained by the seat belt, the body’s inertia is dampened. This inertia can, otherwise, be fatal and life-threatening. About 30% of the time, a person’s ejection from the vehicle is prevented by using seat belts.

The study also observed that workers who worked in sectors where driving is not part of the primary job duties, used seat belts less frequently in comparison with workers who worked in transportation occupations.

Although the findings of the study were significant, it had some limitations. The study was conducted through self-report surveys which may have biased the results as responses would have been influenced by the social desirability bias. The study also did not make a distinction between work-related driving and personal driving.

The questions featured in the study used the generalized term ‘car’ and it is not certain if the respondents who used other vehicles interpreted it correctly. The surveys did not include households without landline facilities which accounted for 2.5% of the total population. The response rate across the states ranged from 31.1% to 59.2% which may have influenced the accuracy of final findings.

In the US, 34 states have adopted primary seat belt laws and 15 states are governed by secondary seat belt laws with New Hampshire being the only state not having a classified seat belt law.  Moreover, rear seat belt laws have also been implemented in 28 states.

Road accident injuries have become a global problem and to counteract the potential loss, law enforcement agencies and populations across countries will have to work together to promote good road safety practices.