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Documenting how states recently upgraded to primary seat belt laws


Authors: Renee M. St. Louis, Betty J. Mercer, David W. Eby

States with primary seat belt enforcement laws consistently have higher observed daytime belt use rates than secondary law States. Secondary belt law States, on the other hand, consistently have more occupant fatalities who were not restrained than primary law States. Since the year 2000, 14 States upgraded their seat belt laws to primary enforcement status. This study documented the roles, strategies, resources, and arguments these States used in efforts to pass primary belt laws. In-depth information was gathered from 10 case study States that passed their laws in 2004 to 2009 (Tennessee, South Carolina, Alaska, Mississippi, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Arkansas, Florida, and Wisconsin). The research team conducted a literature review to provide background on the legislative histories of passing primary safety belt laws and to identify people and topics for subsequent interviews. Over 80 in-depth interviews were conducted with a variety of people who played key roles in the process of upgrading to primary enforcement to identify successful strategies, describe concerns from the opposition, and outline approaches used to overcome these concerns. Each of the 10 case study States was unique in terms of the approach used to pass a primary belt law, but there were common efforts and themes among them. Issues that were important in passing a primary seat belt law included: understanding that passing a primary law is a multiyear effort involving a broad-based network of organizations and individuals working in the unique political situation in the State; identifying and effectively responding to opposition arguments; maximizing awareness of the availability of Section 406 Safety Belt Performance Grants, a portion of which could be used for highway and infrastructure projects; using paid lobbyists to provide information and address concerns of legislators; engaging the media to enlist and report on public support; presenting the bill in terms of a public [...]

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