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Development & Transportation

Some Young Drivers Ignoring Seat Belt Laws

New research has shown that novice teen drivers who live in states with so-called "secondary enforcement" seatbelt laws are less likely to use the life-saving devices than those in "primary enforcement" states.

A primary seatbelt law allows an officer to stop a vehicle and issue a citation to the person simply for not wearing a seatbelt. 33 states, including Pennsylvania, have primary offense seatbelt laws.

17 states have secondary offense seatbelt laws that only allow for a citation to be issued if the driver is stopped for a primary violation, such as speeding.

Dr. Dennis Durbin, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and co-author of the study, thinks there are a variety of reasons as to why people don't wear seatbelts.

"I think there is a small group of people — this may be a small, vanishing group of people anymore — who simply don't understand the role of seatbelts and what value they bring in improving the safety of people in the car in the event of a crash. Then there are those who seem to need to be motivated, not out of sort of a safety concern, but rather out of avoiding a penalty," Durbin said.

According to Durbin, automotive safety competes for attention within families with other priorities.

"For some of these families, who may be struggling economically, or who may be struggling with behavioral issues among their teens, automotive safety just doesn't rank as a priority," Durbin said.

He also believes that it is very important for family and friends to pressure drivers into wearing their seatbelt, by saying something as simple as, "We aren't going anywhere until everyone buckles up."

"That's a very powerful motivator, and in fact it's one of the things that we try to get teens to feel empowered to do," Durbain said. "You know if you're the driver, you're in charge of your car, you have control, and can make all the passengers wear their seatbelts. And I think when they do that the passengers are a bit more likely to behave in a way that's not distracting to the driver."