ODU group provides picture of Virginia seat-belt use


Excuse Jessica Ladage for staring. She couldn't help but notice.

In fact, as you drove by, she was trying very hard to notice.

No, not the finger-in-nose thing, although she has caught her share of that, too.

It was the seat belt.

Ladage, a 28-year-old graduate student, has been standing on roadsides in a bright orange safety vest and peering into vehicles since 2009 to learn whether you're buckled in. She looks for that and about a half-dozen other details, all of which she has about three seconds to mentally capture before she marks them on her clipboard.

Car, truck, SUV or minivan? Was the driver male or female? On a cellphone? What about the passenger?

Before they can save lives, before they know where to threaten drivers with tickets, before they know how many people are not buckling up, researchers like Ladage fan out across the state to answer those questions again and again and again.

The data, collected thousands of times on carefully selected roads across Virginia, contribute to a constantly evolving understanding of safety belt use in the commonwealth. It's all done by a group from Old Dominion University.

Their work, paid for with state grants, helps officials know where to focus enforcement and educational campaigns and creates a rough sketch of users and nonusers. It told us that Virginia had a seat belt use rate of 78.4 percent during a daytime survey last summer.

It found that male drivers buckled up at a rate of about 7 percentage points lower than female drivers and that the gender gap more than doubled in the passenger seat.

It showed that people in pickups, vans and rural areas were among the least likely to wear one.

The consequences can be deadly. While surveys show that about a fifth of the population doesn't buckle in, unbelted fatalities generally represent about half of all vehicle occupant deaths on Virginia roads. The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported 305 unbelted fatalities and 4,417 unbelted injuries for 2012.

Some crashes are so bad that a seat belt wouldn't make a difference, but "if you're not restrained, you have very little chance," said Bryan Porter, an associate professor of psychology at ODU who leads the seat belt research.

Why some choose not to buckle up is a difficult question to answer, he said.

Researchers know that young men are the most likely not to strap in and that riskier lifestyles in general tend to coincide with lack of safety belt use. For example, surveys of intersections in Hampton Roads have found that people who are not buckled in are more likely to run red lights, Porter said.

"People that take care of themselves are more likely to take care of themselves in other areas as well," he said.

Children and young people also tend to model what their parents and friends do, Porter said. Others seem to be influenced by law enforcement campaigns.

In Virginia, seat belt use percentage rates had hovered around the low 70s for a decade until "Click it or Ticket" campaigns in the state started in earnest around 2003. Statewide rates have hewed closer to 80 percent since.

Of course, when researchers try to document the practice through telephone surveys, usage rates soar into the 90s, Porter said. People tend to slightly exaggerate their behavior when asked to self-report, but a bigger problem with using phone surveys to measure seat belt use across the entire population is the difficulty of getting young men in the sample, he said.

So the surveyors from ODU go out and look for themselves. Sites are chosen in a process that winnows locations down to their GPS coordinates. Each site must provide a safe viewing location for the worker and meet other criteria to ensure it contributes to a proper sample pool.

Graduate students like Ladage are salaried; others who are hired from outside get $12 to $15 an hour. Their projects include one large federally mandated annual summer survey, paid for with a $187,000 grant, and month-to-month surveys funded by a $179,000 grant.

Each survey lasts about an hour. Ladage typically will begin and end each session with a five-minute count of every vehicle that passes by. The rest of the time she will single out one vehicle from the stream of traffic as it approaches, lock eyes on it and try to answer every item on her questionnaire before it's gone. Then it's on to the next one.

There's almost no time to deliberate on a detail, including gender, which can be a tricky question when a vehicle is passing at 45 mph. The checklist provides an option for "Unknown" if any details - even all of them - are missed.

"If we don't know something, we never guess," Ladage said.

She has learned to zero in on a sweet spot just over the driver's left shoulder to discern whether the belt is on. It must also be on correctly. Straps routed under an arm or behind the back count as if the driver isn't wearing it.

Fuzzy belt covers are a favorite because they're easy to spot. Tinted windows are a pain, as are people who sit awkwardly and obscure their belt.

"You think it's hard to see now," Ladage said during an afternoon survey of Military Highway in Norfolk. "Nighttime is really hard."

Police across the state will increase their own focus on seat belt use for two weeks in late May, when Virginia begins its annual Click it or Ticket campaign.

Virginia law requires adults in the front seat to be buckled up but does not allow police to pull over a vehicle solely for a safety belt violation. Virginia is one of 17 states where it is a so-called secondary offense, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. The fine is $25.

However, police can pull over a vehicle if they see a child not properly restrained anywhere in the vehicle. That is punishable by a $50 ticket or a $500 fine for repeat offenders.

Porter predicted that making Virginia's adult seat belt law a primary offense, as 32 states have done, could increase its compliance rate to 88 percent. Maryland and North Carolina, both primary law states, reported rates of 94 percent and 89.5 percent in 2011.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated last year that such a marked increase in Virginia's compliance rate would mean about three dozen fewer deaths, 544 fewer serious injuries and $138 million less in costs each year. Legislative attempts to change the law have failed.

Those who take the risk and drive beltless sometimes defy expectations, Ladage said. She has seen "little, old grandmas driving to church" flouting the safety belt law while the hard-looking teenager with the music blaring is safely, cautiously strapped in.

Dave Forster, 757-446-2627, dave.forster@pilotonline.com

Posted to: News Norfolk Traffic - Transportation

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Seat belts

Seat belts are a necessity. I can't think of any viable argument that they are not needed. It's not like you can say "Oops. I'm going to be in a wreck. Let me put my belt on." You need to wear them, all the time you are on the public roads.

We could pass a law allowing the insurance company to not pay for your car repairs (but do pay for medical bills and the other driver's car) if you are not wearing a belt. Same with a cell phone. If proven it was in use at the time of the accident,same rule. No car repairs.

Cars have turned into phone booths, video machines and anything else but what they were intended for, transportation.

Hang up and drive folks. MY life is not worth your text.

better questions

Who doesn't signal?

Who doesn't tailgate?

Who doesn't speed?

Who doesn't run stop signs and red lights?

Who isn't a dum-ass?


Finger in the nose thing.

what's that all about?

I thought Seinfeld covered that already.

Oh it was a scratch!

I have witnessed a person driving on 64 towards Richmond reading a book while driving!!

In this modern world, I

In this modern world, I don't know any any excuse for not wearing a seatbelt. I still have friends (in their 30s) that think wearing a seatbelt is nerdy or not manly, and no matter how much I try to sway them they stick to their guns. Oh well, that's a poor choice they make and I hope it never comes around that they're proven wrong. And as one comment already stated, cars have become mobile lounges and soooooo many people take full advantage of the tech and text, Facebook, watch movies, etc while driving. The fact that these people are out there sharing the roads with you should be at least enough to wear a seatbelt (at a minimum).

Rules decrease injuries when things go bad...

Cycle helmets suck. Hot, distracting,impair vision and my ability to hear my surroundings, compromise my ability to sense hazards, decreasing my safety in that regard.

Wear 'em here by law.
Been parted from my bike by accidents caused by others
at speeds greater than 55. Learned to fly (ballistically).

with road rash, bruises, strains,

and a lot of luck.

I've learned...

Without the helmet and the luck, FINBACKRYCH would not be typin' these words.

Seat belts are no different.

Decrease injuries, increase control,
still in front of the wheel
when things go bad...

and they do go bad!
Bad roads,
mistakes (our own, or others)...

or just bad luck.

Stack the odds in your favor.
Be adult.

Not the child,



I was rear-ended in the 70s by a drunk sailor, and my Pinto caught fire. The seat belt release jammed in the accident, and if I didn't have a knife in the glove box, I would probably have died in the fire. Seat belts are dangerous. Every time I put one one (if I am in a "primary" offense state like NC) I get nervous and very hesitant. We should NOT be REQUIRED to wear one, it should only be a suggestion. We don't need a nanny state, we need people to learn to drive properly.

The odds don't support you

No one can deny that there are stories like yours where wearing a seat belt was a negative, but for every story like yours there are hundreds more where the seat belt saved a life or prevented serious injury.

I am a commercial driver and one of the pieces of safety gear in my vehicle is a seat belt cutter. It's an acknowledgement that yes, there could be situations where the seat belt is hazardous, but overall I am far more likely to be protected by it than endangered.

So carry a knife or belt

So carry a knife or belt cutter. A lot safer than being thrown from your car. And yes it does affect other people. It's not like you're going to be able to scrape your own carcass up off the pavement when you're thrown from your car. Some poor paramedic is going to have to do that for you.


Would not approve of spending money as to why people do not wear seat belts. Virginia is going to spend money to educate people on why the should. Darwin would say those who choose not wear will eventually learn their lesson through cause and effect.

Seat belts

Are the leading cause of ejection seat malfunctions in automobiles. Think twice before you buckle up!


I tried to look up your claim but can't find it. Where's your evidence? When I read stories about people being ejected from cars in wrecks they always say the person is not wearing a belt.


He said "ejection seat malfunction". Think James bond ejection seat. E.g. you push a button and eject an annoying passenger.

For the sarcasm-impaired members of today's audience

No, I was not being literal.

Leon, read it again. I think it would make a catchy bumper sticker slogan. (I also think a good safety feature for cars would be a giant spike sticking out of the steering wheel, but I digress...)

Cheers! :)

I personally think it should be a person’s decision.

I personally think it should be a person’s decision whether to buckle up or not. The only person that they may be hurting is themselves.


Your personal business except when medical costs add to overall insurance costs, or your passengers lose out because the driver is careless, or especially when taxpayer money ends up paying for your lifelong disability or institutional care ---yes, it does matter.


And then it should also be the hospital's choice to treat the person and the insurance company to pay for the treatment.

Not entirely true.

An individual not wearing a safety belts become a deadly projectiles in a serious impact. Basic physics:

Newton's 1st Law- A body at rest remains at rest and a body in uniform motion remains in uniform motion unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force. Newton's 2nd Law- the net force on an object is equal to the mass of the object multiplied by its acceleration.

The 2nd law shows how much damage you will do to yourself and others if you become a projectile. E.g. your child "who refuses" to keep on the safety belt could kill you or another passenge in an accident. If you doubt this have a 40lb sack of potatoes hit you in the head at 25mph. More weight/speed more damage.

Nobody is physically able to restrain one's self, Nobody.

No, many others are

No, many others are affected. First you make the paramedics job substantially more difficult and gruesome. Secondly, as noted, you run up medical expenses, and not necessarily for a few weeks--could go on for many years. If you die with a spouse and children, they will be added to social security roles. And if you don't die, you're probably be applying for disability, and your friends and family may spend the next years using their leave days not to go to ball games or the beach or Disney World, but taking your sorry a** to physical therapy appointments to learn to walk again. And I bet you don't want the government to force you to make provision to pay your medical bills either. Typical.

Back when dinosaurs….

….roamed the earth, I decided to bend a Vega in half with a Blazer. I didn’t get hurt but I ended up all over the steering wheel. Probably the only thing that kept me off the floor was my foot trying to push the brake pedal thru the firewall. Another thing I learned that night was there’s going to be a drunk or an idiot on the roads somewhere you can’t avoid. I’ve worn belts ever since.

Lifesaver, and maybe it would save you if a tailgater hit you

I buckle up every time. At first I did it only because it had just become another new law. After my seat belt saved me from at minimum a bad injury when my vehicle rolled (hit black ice one dark morning) I don't have a problem buckling up. Nowadays I'd do it whether it was the law or not.
As has been mentioned already I would MUCH rather have the laws against tailgating, etc. enforced than wasting police time on seat belt enforcement, and getting the texting drivers what they deserve (jail?) would be hugely appreciated. I feel that people who tailgate or text while driving are no different than a killer pointing a gun at my head with their finger on the trigger! It's attempted murder in my opinion.

government waste

Paid for with state grants. Yeah.


Seems like if the police where out on patrol and ACTUALLY watching they wouldn't need to have the state pay a grant to students to do the research for them. I guess that would require more work than sitting on the side of the road with a radar gun. Heck they might actually see people tailgating and having road rage too.

Police action

Seatbelt non-usage is not a primary stoppable offense unless it is an unsecured child in the vehicle. The police could see everyone with no belt all day, and not a d-d thing they could do about it!

Better question

Why do people think the speed limit is a suggestion?

Probably for the same reason

Probably for the same reason people think "keep right except to pass"/"slower traffic keep right" is just a suggestion.

I agree with both of ya.

Why is it that some folks think it's okay to exceed the posted limit on some roads (interstates, Military Highway, VB Blvd, et al) but when others are driving on the road which we live there's gotta be speed bumps or signs stating that fines are doubled or tripled?


Are we reinventing the wheel? Probably. I think many people have read that certain demographics are less likely to wear their seat-belts. I think "why" may be a more important question. Perhaps people in larger vehicles (SUV, etc.) feel a false sense of security, although they are actually MORE likely to be ejected in a crash without a seat-belt, because SUVs have a tendency to roll over. I don't care what their emphasis area is, any student ends up doing this over-funded, redundant research in his lab, as long as their not... I guess that's department policy. Going to be ABD for the next 10 years? Consider chasing cars, that will keep you funded!

I witnessed an accident years ago - a truck rolling over

And over and flipping around - the driver wasn't belted and looked like a rag doll being tossed all over the inside of that truck - hitting the roof, windshield, door to door - blood was everywhere and the driver was a bloody limp mess hanging out of the window when it was all over. Not sure if the driver died or lived. Me, I buckle up every time, no excuses ever.

Three times

In three different accidents, wearing a seat belt made the difference between serious injury or death and walking away with hardly a scratch. I've lost friends and a family member that made the decision not to wear them - then got in accidents that ES personnel said that if they had, they too would have most probably walked away from. One could call it Darwinism in action.

Insurance companies, to save as much of the premiums we pay as they can, have done the big push for seat belt laws. It also gives them an excuse to raise everyone else's rates whenever they get evidence of people not using seat belts.

A friend of mine in high

A friend of mine in high school hit the windshield with his face, it took numerous plastic surgeries just to get his face to resemble human.
A couple months after the accident, while walking down the hall at school, one girl that saw his face burst out in tears. Ever since then I have worn a seatbelt. That was over 30yrs ago. I even went so far as to install seatbelts in a couple of older vehicles.

seat belts cause injury

In most accidents involving seat belts and injury, the seat belt is what causes the injury: internal organ damage, strained muscles, etc. Air bags, assuming both front and side air bags are present, are far superior in most situations, especially for the elderly. Angry young males aside, there are valid reasons for choosing not to wear a seat belt.

That is because the belt was doing it's job

If a person were not wearing the belt in an accident they would have 1st hand experience of how Newton's first 2 laws work. Your argument makes as much sense as argueing a motorcyclist who flies over the handle bars head first into the concrete and walks away then reasoning he would have been better off without a helmet because the chinstrap bruised his chin. Ask a Paramedic: an airbag can kill you if you aren't wearing your seatbelt. The bag deploys at 220mph, the seatbelt keeps you from being thrown forward then the bag launching you back.

Law of Probability has shown your belt will more likely save you though it may hurts you.

I believe in personal freedom. You can choose to prove Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection.

Not sure how your motorcycle

Not sure how your motorcycle example applies to anything I said, since a motorcycle doesn't have air bags. Air bags have larger surface areas and do less damage, and if you're traveling fast enough to strike the air bag before it's deployed, a seat belt is not likely to save you. I wish seat belts and air bags were as well synchronized as you imply, but sadly that is not the case. Impact velocity, initial belt tension and the mass of the occupant are highly variable determining factors.

With respect to probabilities, I highly recommend “Risk” by John Adams that addresses those probabilities quite convincingly.

What are you implying?

"In most accidents involving seat belts and injury, the seat belt is what causes the injury". Are you saying that the individual would have faired better if not wearing a seat belt? Are you saying an airbag alone would have been a better alternative. In both cases the person would have been injured much worse.

You should forward your brilliant insight to Formula 1 & NASCAR. They have "misguidedly" come to believe the more secure the driver is the more likely he is to survive any crash.

There is no instance you are describing where a person would have not suffered greater injury had they not been wearing a belt. The inverse is true, If a 5 point belt were worn then the likelihood of injury would be reduced.

In many cases the individual

In many cases the individual might have been better off without the seat belt, yes. There are a lot of factors that can determine if a seat belt would have helped or hurt, and not much data available. Most of what’s published these days is simply whether a seat belt was used. Most late model cars with reliable air bags can be safer for some drivers if they avoid the seat belt and drive accordingly. As I said in my original post, there are valid reasons to choose not to wear one.

I agree with you about NASCAR and 5 point belts. Alas, most cars lack those belts… as well as 750+ HP engines.

In my car

EVERYONE has their seatbelt buckled or my car does NOT move Period!

As for the argument that the police do not use them, there is a difference of opinion on that. Some say they would interfere with their equipment, (weapon, spare clips, taser, pepper spray, radio etc). Others say they would hinder them if they had to bail quickly.
Google search for police usage of seatbelts give many equally valid responses, many using them during a chase or high-speed response, but not during normal city patrol actions.

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