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Almost 90 percent of American adults wear seat belts regularly, but young men are least likely to wear them

Men between the ages of 19 and 29 are the group least likely to wear a seat belt while driving or riding in a car, and they are three times as likely not to use their seat belt as women of the same age, according to a new data analysis from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The data, from AHRQ's 2002 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), show that 88 percent of people between 16 and 64 years of age were reported to always or nearly always use seat belts. This number is close to the goal set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to increase national seat belt use to 90 percent by the year 2005. Healthy People 2010 set a goal of 92 percent use of seat belts by 2010. However, a little more than 5 percent of people ages 16 to 64 never or seldom use their seat belts, and another 7 percent use their seat belts only sometimes.

Other data about the people who never or seldom use their seat belts include:

  • Young people ages 19-21 who are not students are four times as likely not to use their seat belts as students of the same age (12 percent compared with 3 percent).
  • People who have only a high school education are twice as likely not to wear their seat belts as those with some additional education (almost 8 percent compared with almost 4 percent).
  • People living in non-metropolitan areas are more than twice as likely not to wear their seat belts as people living in large metropolitan areas (about 9 percent versus 4 percent).

In addition, of all people ages 16 to 64, those ages 16 to 18 were the group least likely to drive or ride in a car without their seat belts. Only about 3 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys were reported to have never used their seat belt.

Details are available online in Statistical Brief No. 62: Characteristics of Persons Who Seldom or Never Wear Seat Belts, 2002 (PDF Help).

MEPS collects information each year from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households about health care use, expenses, access, health status, and quality. MEPS is a unique government survey because of the degree of detail in its data, as well as the capability of users to link data on health services spending and health insurance to demographic, employment, economic, health status, and other characteristics of individuals and families.

General information about MEPS is available at www.meps.ahrq.gov.

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