Key Findings:

  • Oregon had the highest seat belt usage in 2000 and is one of three states to see a decline in 2017.
  • North Dakota, while having the largest increase in seat belt usage, has the 7th lowest seat belt usage rate in the country.
  • Massachusetts, while having one of the largest increases in seat belt usage, has the lowest seat belt usage rate in the country.
  • Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii have seen a decrease in seat belt usage.
  • California has the highest rate of seat belt usage in the country.

Using a seat belt is one of the easiest ways to prevent serious injuries or death in a car accident. Many of us know this by now, and in general, seat belt usage is increasing across the U.S. But different areas have varying laws surrounding seat belt usage, so seat belt usage rates differ from state to state. The result of using a seat belt is static across the board though: it reduces crash-related death and injuries by half. More than 50% of teens and adults who died in crashes in 2016 were not buckled up at the time of the accident.

States like North Dakota, Virginia and Massachusetts that see an increase in seat belt usage can thank effective initiatives. Whereas states like Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii, which have seen a decrease in seat belt usage, should consider why fewer folks are buckling up.

Rankings

We looked at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data to compare seat belt usage from 2000 to 2017 in each state to find which states had the highest rate of improvement. Figures are based on seatbelt usage among drivers in fatal crashes. Rankings 1 (highest) to 50 (lowest) reflect states with the highest increase in seat belt usage.

Rank (Highest) State Usage Rate in 2000 Usage Rate in 2017 Increase in Seat Belt Usage
1 North Dakota 20.7% 49.5% 139%
2 Virginia 37.5% 68.5% 83%
3 Massachusetts 25.3% 44.8% 77%
4 Rhode Island 35.4% 59.0% 67%
5 Tennessee 43.5% 67.8% 56%
T-6 Mississippi 39.9% 61.6% 54%
T-6 Minnesota 45.9% 70.7% 54%
8 Kansas 38.3% 58.7% 53%
9 Iowa 44.5% 64.8% 46%
10 Louisiana 44.1% 62.6% 42%
11 South Dakota 34.5% 47.9% 39%
12 Maine 50.8% 68.9% 36%
13 Florida 58.1% 78.2% 35%
T-14 Arkansas 46.0% 61.2% 33%
T-14 Kentucky 49.8% 66.1% 33%
16 Indiana 50.2% 66.0% 31%
T-17 Delaware 50.3% 65.0% 29%
T-17 Utah 53.9% 69.4% 29%
19 Idaho 43.4% 55.4% 28%
T-20 Alaska 49.5% 63.1% 27%
T-20 Arizona 52.1% 66.1% 27%
T-22 Illinois 52.8% 66.7% 26%
T-22 Connecticut 51.6% 64.8% 26%
24 Washington 56.9% 70.9% 25%
25 South Carolina 55.5% 68.7% 24%
26 Georgia 55.1% 67.3% 22%
T-27 Missouri 45.6% 55.3% 21%
T-27 New Hampshire 38.9% 46.9% 21%
T-27 New Jersey 63.3% 76.3% 21%
30 Nevada 60.5% 72.9% 20%
31 Pennsylvania 45.7% 54.6% 19%
T-32 Wisconsin 50.5% 59.6% 18%
T-32 Vermont 57.3% 67.6% 18%
34 California 69.0% 80.8% 17%
T-35 Nebraska 39.1% 45.5% 16%
T-35 North Carolina 62.5% 72.5% 16%
37 Oklahoma 51.3% 58.3% 14%
T-38 Ohio 54.8% 61.9% 13%
T-38 Michigan 65.0% 73.4% 13%
40 New Mexico 62.3% 68.7% 10%
T-41 New York 64.7% 70.8% 9%
T-41 Colorado 62.0% 67.3% 9%
43 Montana 48.1% 51.9% 8%
44 Texas 67.7% 72.7% 7%
T-45 Alabama 52.8% 56.1% 6%
T-45 West Virginia 46.6% 49.3% 6%
47 Maryland 70.5% 73.5% 4%
48 Wyoming 49.7% 46.6% -6%
49 Oregon 73.9% 67.6% -9%
50 Hawaii 68.4% 60.2% -12%

North Dakota has the highest increase of seat belt usage in the country

In 2000, North Dakota had a 20.7 seat belt usage rate, the lowest in the country at that time. Our data shows that the state had a 139% increase in seat belt usage from 2000 to 2017, the highest increase in the country. North Dakota's current seat belt laws require only that front-seat passengers and drivers wear seat belts (this is considered secondary-enforcement). Drivers can also only be ticketed for a seat belt if they were pulled over for another traffic violation.

However, in 2019, the North Dakota Senate passed a proposal that would allow law enforcement to pull over drivers if they see they're not wearing a seat belt and fine them $50. Although it still needs to be considered by the House, the proposal shows the state's possible movement toward primary-enforcement seat belt laws. This reflects the upward trend of using a seat belt in the state.

Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii see decreases in seat belt usage

There were only three states to see a decrease in seat belt usage from 2000 to 2017: Wyoming, Oregon and Hawaii. Oregon had the highest seat belt usage in 2000, but was one of only three states to see a decline in usage in the following 17 years. The usage rate went from 73.9 to 67.6, a 9% decrease. Although usage decreased over time, Oregon drivers and front-seat passengers still buckle up more than the national average. That's not the case for Wyoming, which saw a 6% decrease in seat belt usage from 2000 to 2017, from 49.7 to 46.6. In 2017, the state had the third-lowest rate of seat belt usage in the country. Hawaii falls in the middle with their 2017 seat belt usage rate, but it's a 12% drop from their 2000 rate, when they had the fourth best. Hawaii has the largest decrease of seat belt use in the country.

Bodily injury limits and seat belt usage

Car crashes without seat belts lead to more serious injuries, expensive medical bills and more time away from work. But even if you always "click it" before driving, the other driver and passengers you're involved in a crash with may not. You want to make sure your bodily injury (BI) limits are high enough to cover even the most expensive third-party medical bills and lost wages.

According to the CDC, in 2010 non-fatal crash injuries to drivers and passengers resulted in over $48 billion in lifetime medical and work-loss costs. Bodily injury liability covers medical bills for any third-party injuries resulting from a car accident you're at-fault for. It also covers legal fees if you're sued by someone injured in the accident. If you're at-fault for an accident, you're legally responsible for paying if someone is injured, and that cost will likely be higher if they weren't wearing a seatbelt. You're required to at least carry your state's minimum BI limits, but if you can, you should purchase higher limits.

Methodology

QuoteWizard analysts compared National Highway Traffic Safety Administration FARS seat belt usage data in each state. We looked at seat belt usage among drivers in fatal crashes between the years 2000 and 2017 to find a rate of increase in seat belt usage. Rankings 1 (highest) to 50 (lowest) are based on states that had the greatest increase in seat belt usage from 2000 to 2017. Analysis also includes seat belt usage in each state for the year 2000 and the year 2017 to show overall usage trends.