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Journal Article


Hunter WW, Stutts JC. Proc. Am. Assoc. Automot. Med. Annu. Conf. 1982; 26: 249-263.


University of North Carolina, Highway Safety Research Center, Chapel Hill, NC, USA


(Copyright © 1982, Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine)






This research explores the use of modest economic incentives to increase safety belt usage among automobile occupants at a senior high school. Some 1300 students, faculty and staff were presented an educational campaign emphasizing that: (1) even though an accident is a low-probability event for any given trip, the probability that such a mishap will occur during the course of one's lifetime is quite high, and (2) the only way to be protected in the event of this near certainty is to buckle up habitually. Following this educational campaign an incentive program was instigated which gave a modest monetary reward (a coupon redeemable for $5.00 cash) to randomly selected car occupants observed wearing their seat belts. Such an incentive program is based on the learning principle dictating that more frequent, smaller rewards (in this case, cash) are more likely to produce a change in behavior than less frequent albeit greater rewards (here, greater protection in the event of a crash).

Effectiveness of the treatment was measured by monitoring observed belt usage before, during and after the educational campaign and incentive program. Seat belt observations were made on the school grounds as well as in the community at large. Overall results show that the shoulder belt usage rate (in vehicles equipped with shoulder belts) increased from about 21 percent in the baseline phase to 28-39 percent in the educational phase to 46-54 percent in the incentive phase. Usage ranged from 29-40 percent in the follow-up phase. When lap belts as well as the lap/shoulder combination were counted on special observation days, the overall restraint usage rate generally excluded 80 percent.


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