Texas Safety Belt Use at All Time High, Other Restraint Surveys Indicate Need for Improvement

Texas motorists are once again buckling up in large numbers, especially compared to years past. Despite the improving numbers, the Center for Transportation Safety (CTS) — part of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) — has documented some areas where still more improvement is needed.

TTI has been conducting these surveys since 1984. Among the surveys conducted this year:  daytime and nighttime safety belt use, child restraint use, school aged safety belt use and motorcycle helmet use.

Statewide Observational Survey of Safety Belt and Motorcycle Helmet Use in Texas

Safety belts were found to be used by 94 percent of more than 42,000 drivers and front seat passengers, the largest compliance percentage since researchers began tracking it in 1992. The observational surveys were conducted in 22 counties across the state during daylight hours. By comparison, last year’s use rate was 93.7 percent, up from 80 percent ten years ago and 68 percent in 1992.

“It’s a fact that safety belt use saves lives,” Senior Research Scientist Katie Womack says. Womack manages CTS’s Behavioral Research Group. “For every increment of improvement in belt use, the rate of fatalities goes down. That’s why it’s very useful to  know what the level of use is in Texas.”

In conjunction with the statewide survey, CTS collected data on helmet use by motorcyclists. In 2012, 910 riders were observed, with 61.1 percent of the riders wearing helmets.

Nighttime Safety Belt Use in Texas: Observational Survey Results

This is a photo of two safety belt surveyors at night

TTI employees conduct nighttime surveys of safety belt use.

For the first time, Womack and her team surveyed safety belt use during all hours of the night, not just during the early hours of the evening. The results were dramatically different than the previous nighttime surveys, which were conducted between 9 p.m. and midnight.

The average nighttime safety belt use in an 18-city study showed that, of 40,000 front seat occupants, 81.3 percent were restrained. That figure compares to an 89 percent use in the same cities during daylight hours.

“In our previous nighttime surveys, which occurred during the early hours of darkness, there was not much of a difference compared to daytime safety belt use,” Womack points out. “What we found is what we expected: there’s a steady decrease in the rate of use as the night progresses after midnight. I think we now have a clearer picture of what’s taking place. In some cities, seat belt use drops into the 60 percent range during some hours.”

Cities with Highest Nighttime Seat Belt Use

  • Austin – 86.9 percent
  • Bryan/College Station – 86.3 percent
  • Tyler – 86.2 percent

Cities with Lowest Nighttime Seat Belt Use

  • Abilene – 72.7 percent
  • Beaumont – 73.5 percent
  • Midland – 66.3 percent

Survey of Child Restraint Use in Fourteen Texas Cities

This is a photo of two children in car seats.With data from  more than 13,000 observations, 89 percent of the children riding in passenger cars were found to be restrained in a child safety seat or by a safety belt. The percentage of restrained children in pickup trucks is lower: 85.1 percent. Combining use across all types of vehicles and all 14 Texas cities, the average use was 88.6 percent. Comparing individual cities, child restraint use varied from 97.4 percent in Austin to 76.9 percent in Corpus Christi.

Child restraint surveys have been conducted by TTI since 1984, the year before the child restraint law was fully implemented. The surveys illustrate a steady increase in child restraint use.

Observational Survey of Safety Belt Use among School Aged Children in Texas

Researchers observed school children aged 5 through 16 in 18 Texas cites to determine if they were restrained by a safety seat or safety belt. TTI determined that of the more than 11,000 school-aged children observed, 64.5 percent were restrained in some manner.

The survey revealed a dramatic difference in restraint use between the children riding in the vehicle’s front seat versus back. Those children riding in the front seat were much more likely to be restrained (77.5 percent) than if they were riding in the back seat (47.2 percent). The survey also determined that younger children (ages 5-9) were less likely to be restrained then the older age groups.

“As with our other surveys, there was a wide range of  use between cities,” Womack says. “Wichita Falls had the highest use rate with 83 percent. Waco had the lowest use rate with 53.7 percent.”

A series of final reports on numerous unique surveys relating to occupant safety restraints have been submitted to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).