The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Laws on Driving Behavior and Traffic Fatalities

48 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2001  

Alma Cohen

Tel Aviv University - Eitan Berglas School of Economics; Harvard Law School; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Liran Einav

Stanford University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Abstract

This paper investigates the effects of mandatory seat belt laws on driver behavior and traffic fatalities. Using a unique panel data set on seat belt usage rates in all U.S. jurisdictions, we analyze how such laws, by influencing seat belt use, affect traffic fatalities. Controlling for the endogeneity of seat belt usage, we find that it decreases overall traffic fatalities. The magnitude of this effect, however, is significantly smaller than the estimate used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Testing the compensating behavior theory, which suggests that seat belt use also has an adverse effect on fatalities by encouraging careless driving, we find that this theory is not supported by the data. Finally, we identify factors, especially the type of enforcement used, that make seat belt laws more effective in increasing seat belt usage.

JEL Classification: C13, I12, K32, K42, R40

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Alma and Einav, Liran, The Effects of Mandatory Seat Belt Laws on Driving Behavior and Traffic Fatalities. Review of Economics and Statistics, Vol. 85, pp. 828-843, 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=293582 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.293582

Alma Cohen (Contact Author)

Tel Aviv University - Eitan Berglas School of Economics ( email )

Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv, 69978
Israel

Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
(617) 496-4099 (Phone)
(617) 812-0554 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Liran Einav

Stanford University - Department of Economics ( email )

Landau Economics Building
579 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6072
United States
650-723-3704 (Phone)
928-223-4973 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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