Seat Belt Use Improves Among African Americans

Next Step: Boosting Usage in Other Groups

October 07, 2002

A new study of seat belt use among adults severely injured in motor vehicle crashes shows the gap between African Americans and Caucasians is nearly gone.

 E. Brooke Lerner, Ph.D., research director of Strong Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Department, will highlight this improvement in a presentation Monday, Oct. 7, 2002, to the American College of Emergency Physicians in Seattle. Lerner measured seat belt use by various demographic groups and looked for trends or changes from January 1995 to July 2000.

Overall, seat belt use during the study period increased by 12 percent. The data came from the regional adult trauma registry, based in Buffalo, where the habits of 2,850 injured adults were evaluated.

She also investigated disparities between African Americans and Caucasians, men and women, passengers and drivers. Historical data has shown that among those people injured in accidents, African Americans, males and passengers were least likely to wear seat belts. However, during the five-year period, seat belt use by African Americans increased and became almost equal to that of Caucasians (66 percent versus 67 percent). No other group comparison showed as much statistical improvement.

“Something has obviously happened among African Americans,” Lerner says. “When we figure out exactly what it is, we can apply it to other groups.”

 Lerner and colleagues do have some hints that could explain the shift. In 1999, the Buckle Up New York (BUNY) campaign was initiated to encourage greater seat belt use across the state. And in Buffalo, African American community leaders, the Urban League and church groups actively promoted the campaign.

“Additional work is needed to determine whether grass roots appeals by community leaders really helps,” Lerner says. “But we are thrilled with the results. This is a good step in the right direction.” Seat belt use is still not 100 percent in any demographic group, Lerner adds. But she believes everyone in a motor vehicle should wear one, whether the ride is short or long, on a highway or side street.

“It can make the difference between life and death.”

EDITORS NOTE: Lerner conducted this study while employed at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. She joined Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center in August.

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